The banging of a trash can in the tunnel behind the Houston Astros’ home dugout ultimately led last week to three major-league managers losing their jobs as the Astros, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox now search for new skippers less than a month before the start of spring training.
It was one of the worst cheating scandals in the history of American sports and a black mark for baseball. But in a way, it might have allowed the Phillies the chance to hire Joe Girardi, because the manager was fired by the Yankees in 2017 after the Astros eliminated his team in a seven-game American League Championship Series.
Perhaps Girardi would still be in New York gearing up this month for season No. 13 in the Yankee pinstripes if the Astros never cheated.
“I’ve always felt that there’s a God above that has a plan for my life,” Girardi said Monday night at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association banquet when asked about the possibility that he could still be the Yankees manager. “I don’t ever think, ‘What if, what if?’ I think you could play that game every day, no matter what walk of life you’re in. The what-ifs don’t really do me any good. It’s what’s in front of me that I worry about.”
Major League Baseball’s investigation found that the Astros used a center-field camera at Minute Maid Park to steal the signs of opposing catchers. An Astros player would watch the feed on a monitor in the tunnel between the dugout and clubhouse and bang a trash can a certain number of times to tip the batter to what pitch was about to be thrown.
The investigation found that the Astros used the system during the 2017 postseason. Girardi said the Yankees did everything they could to guard their signs when they were playing the Astros that October. Tellingly, the Yankees were 3-0 at home in the series, and 0-4 in Houston.
Sign-stealing has been going on for years, Girardi said, but he said this was different than traditional methods. MLB first warned teams against using technology to steal signs in September 2017.
“I’ve always thought if sign-stealing takes place between the white lines, that’s fair game,” Girardi said. “Because that’s players paying attention to detail. That’s where it should come from. To me, that’s competition. But when it comes from outside the white lines, I have an issue with that.”
The investigation found, the system was player-driven, which has certainly caused discomfort throughout the league as players from other teams read the commissioner’s report last week and saw what their fellow players were doing to win. MLB suspended Houston’s manager and general manager, who were quickly fired. Red Sox manager Alex Cora and new Mets manager Carlos Beltran subsequently lost their jobs due to their association with the 2017 Astros.
“It was hard to see,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “I don't know all of the facts of what happened. But from what you read in the commissioner's report, they were obviously not playing the game of baseball the way it was supposed to be played. It's disappointing to see that. But I feel like Major League Baseball did a good job in thoroughly investigating and finding the problem and hopefully fixing it.”
CC Sabathia, who started 27 games in 2017 for Girardi, said last week on his podcast that the Yankees -- not the Astros -- were the rightful 2017 world champions. Said Girardi: “What has happened has happened.” Plus, the manager noted, it was the Dodgers -- not the Yankees -- who lost the World Series to Houston.
Girardi seemed Monday night to have little interest in revisiting what could have happened in 2017. Maybe Girardi wins his second world title as Yankees manager and keeps his job if the Astros did not cheat. Or maybe they lose in the World Series and Girardi gets fired anyway, as his relationship with general manager Brian Cashman had soured.
Girardi instead moves forward at peace with what happened. His Yankees were eliminated, he was fired five days later, and now he’s weeks away from starting his first spring training as the manager of the Phillies. He’ll gather his new team on Feb. 17 for its first full workout in Clearwater, Fla. And perhaps a trash can helped get him there.
“I’m really excited. We’re about three weeks away,” Girardi said. “You start counting down the days and you look forward to the competition starting. I’m excited about the team that we’ve assembled here. There are a few things that you have to iron out in spring training, and that’s always interesting. But I’m really looking forward to it.”