By Paul Newberry
When future generations are documenting baseball history, Mike Fiers will surely be remembered as one of the game's most significant figures.
Not necessarily for what he did on the field, though tossing a pair of no-hitters is certainly a worthy achievement.
Let's just hope all his fellow players give him a big tip of the cap when he takes the mound this season.
After all, Fiers blew the lid off one of the most nefarious schemes in the history of the national pastime, a scandal that ranks right up there with the Black Sox and the Steroids Era.
There will surely be some who view him as a back-stabbing snitch for going public with revelations that Houston cheated its way to a World Series title in 2017 by stealing signs, who will whisper—or even say right out loud—that he violated one of baseball's cardinal rules by revealing the secrets of the clubhouse.
We already got a sampling of that line of thought from ESPN analyst and New York Mets adviser Jessica Mendoza, who said Thursday the pitcher should have reported his concerns to Major League Baseball instead of going to The Athletic with his blockbuster story.
“It didn't sit well with me,” Mendoza said during an appearance on ESPN's “Golic and Wingo” show. “Honestly, it made me sad for the sport that that's how this all got found out.”
Then, she dug herself an even deeper hole.
“This wasn't something MLB naturally investigated,” Mendoza said. “It came from within. It was a player that was a part of it, that benefited from it during the regular season when he was a part of that team. That, when I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would. It's something that you don't do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know, but to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it's hard to swallow.”
What a crock.
If Fiers hadn't made his on-the-record allegations to a journalist, there's a very good chance the world never would have known the full extent of the scam.
If there's one thing that sports leagues and pretty much any for-profit business try to avoid, it's embarrassing publicity. We'll never know how thorough the investigation would've been if baseball officials had known it was all on the down low, but history is filled with foul deeds that went largely unpunished until a whistleblower bravely went public with the truth.
Chances are, AJ Hinch, Jeff Luhnow, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran would still have jobs.
Instead, all were ousted from the game after Commissioner Rob Manfred quickly and thoroughly investigated the report, singling them out as most responsible for a clandestine video system that allowed the Astros to signal to their hitters what pitches were coming—providing a huge advantage over the guys on the mound.
Not surprisingly, there were players who reacted negatively to the way Fiers exposed the Astros' dirty little secret, though they didn't have the same courage to let their be names be used.
“Give back your ring and your World Series share,” a current Houston player told Yahoo Sports.
It's not unfair to question Fiers' motives.
He didn't say anything, at least not publicly, when the Astros were cheating their way to a World Series title. Some wondered if he were bitter about the way he was treated by his former team, which didn't use him during the 2017 playoffs and decided not to offer him a contract after the championship season. Others have questioned Fiers for remaining quiet through two more seasons, finally coming clean after his current team, the Oakland Athletics, finished second to the Astros in the AL West.
But it's much more likely that Fiers followed a tortured path taken by many whistleblowers.
He was troubled all along by what he knew, but was reluctant to say anything for fear he would be seen as a troublemaker. He surely fretted that leveling such a monumental allegation against a powerhouse franchise would make him a pariah within the game he loves and haunt him for the rest of his career.
Then, for whatever reason, Fiers finally decided that the weight of remaining silent was greater than the potential burden of going public.
“That's not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”
Those who were victimized by Houston's scam—most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost the 2017 World Series in seven games—seem to grasp the significance of Fiers' revelations, even if it's too late to help get a fair shot at the title.
“I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming,” Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood wrote on Twitter.
Manfred deserves kudos for moving quickly to suspend Astros manager Hinch and GM Luhnow for the entire 2020 season (which led to them being fired shortly afterward). His report also singled out Cora, the team's former bench coach, as the main architect of the shenanigans (which led to his firing as Boston Red Sox manager).
Beltran was the one player mentioned prominently in the report, undoubtedly because 2017 was his final year on the field. This was supposed to be his first season as the New York Mets manager, but the team cut ties with him before he even got the chance to come up with another underhanded method of winning.
Manfred needs to go a step farther and punish every player who had a significant role in stealing signs, or readily accepted the ill-gotten edge.
“The fact that there hasn't been any consequences to any players up to this point is wild,” Wood said.
Further, it might be time to consider a thorough crackdown on the game's technological arms race, starting with a ban on the use of any video while the game is in progress.
No matter how it all shakes out, the national pastime is better now than it was a few days ago.
Thank you, Mike Fiers.
History will treat you well.