ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — St. Bonaventure junior outfielders Tyler Kelder and Brendyn Stillman crushed a combined 10 home runs in a span of three games to start the 2020 season in February.
Manager Larry Sudbrook had never seen anything like it in his 33 years on the job.
Days later, though, he saw something on Twitter that caught his eye.
A video, which showcased the 10 home runs, also showcased how the actions of Major League Baseball players and managers have impacted the college game.
One of the first responses to the Tweet said, “Anyone banging garbage cans?”
Garbage cans have gained a new definition as of late, especially in the baseball world. During the 2017 and 2018 MLB seasons, the Houston Astros struck garbage cans in their dugout and used video monitors in their clubhouse to steal opposing pitchers’ signs from the catcher.
After the Astros won the 2017 World Series, and after their hitters feasted on predictable pitching, the MLB launched an investigation, which concluded in late January.
The findings sent a shockwave through the baseball world and left three managers and a general manager without jobs. AJ Hinch, former Astors manager, was suspended from the MLB for a year and fired by Houston Astros’ owner Jim Crane. Jeff Luhnow, former Astros general manager, received the same deal.
And the firings didn’t stop in Houston. Boston Red Sox World Series-winning manager Alex Cora lost his job because of his involvement, as did New York Mets manager and former Astro Carlos Beltran.
Sudbrook compared the sign-stealing scandal to the MLB’s steroid scandal of the late 1990s and early 2000s. According to Sudbrook, the temptation to gain an advantage can be hard to resist for some athletes, especially in the major leagues.
“Certainly at the highest level, the lure of trying to get an advantage is sometimes tough for athletes to pass up,” Sudbrook said. “That’s why the managers and the general managers were punished, because they felt like they should have stopped it.”
And sometimes, those advantages can be a natural part of the game. In baseball, sign stealing is a common practice for many teams. Base runners, while at second base, often try to steal signs from catchers. Managers and players, while in the dugout, keep a close eye on the other team’s signs.
“People have been stealing signs for as long as the game has been around,” Sudbrook said. “That’s considered okay. It’s part of the gamesmanship. If the catcher doesn’t use different sets of signs, that’s his fault. If you can steal signs from the pitching coach, who relays them to the catcher, that’s okay. They should have figured that out.”
But to Sudbrook, what the Astros did crossed the line. By a lot.
“But when you start using a camera in center field that has an instantaneous feed into the dugout, you’ve crossed the line," Sudbrook said, "You’ve now used some technology to cheat that is not in the realm of the baseball rules.”
As spring training began, the Astros and their former manager issued public apologies.
Hinch, the ex-manager, went first in an exclusive, on-camera interview with Tom Verducci, a reporter for MLB Network.
Sudbrook said he thought Hinch appeared to be very remorseful.
“As the manager, he [Hinch] seemed extremely remorseful,” Sudbrook said. “During the interview, he seemed like a close relative had just died. He realized that he does have to take a lot of blame for it.”
However, Sudbrook said he didn’t think the Astros’ players were as remorseful
“They came out argumentative,” Sudbrook said. “They didn’t think it impacted the game. They know that’s not true. When you’re hitting, you have to decide instantaneously whether a pitch is a ball or a strike and if it has spin on it. If it has spin on it, it’s a breaking ball, slider, whatever. If a pitch is straight, it’s a fastball or a changeup.”
Sudbrook said, “When you can eliminate one of those things, that makes hitting a lot easier. A lot easier. The players did not come out well.”
While the start of the MLB regular season has been delayed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Sudbrook said it will be a bumpy season for the Astros organization. Fans and other players won’t forget about this anytime soon.
“They’re [the Astros] are going to catch it every place they go,” Sudbrook said. “People are going to be banging in the stands, hollering things. If a player has a bad at-bat and strikes out, he’s going to hear it coming back to the dugout.”
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