MIAMI – Baseball’s news cycle of late has been dominated by the sign-stealing scandal that led to upheaval in Houston and Boston, as well as Derek Jeter missing out on being a unanimous selection for Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Don Mattingly was bothered by both stories.
Miami’s manager spoke out Saturday at the team’s annual FanFest, expressing dismay over how Jeter — the Marlins’ CEO — was one vote away from appearing on 100% of the ballots submitted in this year’s Hall of Fame voting, as well as the sign-stealing controversy that is could well taint Houston’s World Series win in 2017 and Boston’s title in 2018.
“You could see it kind of coming, honestly, with the technology, with the cameras, just how fast that has come to the forefront with everything you can do with replay,” Mattingly said. “You could actually see how it could ... how something could start to happen. Unfortunately, it did.”
Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs during the Astros’ run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season. Team owner Jim Crane then fired both Hinch and Luhnow. Manager Alex Cora left the Red Sox last month after Manfred’s report identified him as the ringleader of the sign-stealing scheme when he was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017.
The Astros were also fined $5 million and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks. MLB’s investigation into Boston continues.
MLB officials said the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s chances of getting a hit.
“We’re all within this industry, so we don't want to see it tarnished or tainted in any way,” Mattingly said. “I think the commissioner’s office did a great job of like bringing everything to the forefront. Now the ramifications have came out. Hopefully it's something that we've moved forward from.”
Mattingly didn’t pause when asked if he was disappointed that Jeter — who appeared on 396 of the 397 returned ballots by vote-holding members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for enshrinement into the game’s Hall of Fame — was not the game’s second unanimous selection, after fellow longtime New York Yankees star Mariano Rivera.
“Honestly, yes,” Mattingly said. “You know, like you said, it doesn't matter. From my viewpoint, it doesn't really matter. But I'm thinking to myself, I don't know how you could look at anything in his career and say it's not Hall of Fame. So I’ll leave it at that.”
Mattingly heads to spring training in the next few days in Jupiter, Florida, with high expectations even though the Marlins are coming off another dismal year.
The Marlins won only 57 games last season, posting the second-worst winning percentage in franchise history — 1998, the year where virtually every player asset from the 1997 World Series title team was given away in a fire sale, was worse by three games.
They were 40 games out of first, 24 games behind any other team in the NL East and went 24-52 in divisional games. They played 45 games before a crowd of 9,000 fans or less — all 45 of those coming at Marlins Park.
But the offseason brought tons of roster change and renewed optimism. Outfielders Matt Joyce and Corey Dickerson, infielders Jesus Aguilar and Jonathan Villar, catcher Francisco Cervelli and right-hander Brandon Kintzler — more than 4,400 games of big league experience between those half-dozen players alone — were among those added to the mix.
“If we don’t make significant improvements this year, we’re going to be disappointed,” Mattingly said.