In one of the more successful recent runs in Major League Baseball, cheating proved to be rather prosperous for the Houston Astros, tainting their recent accomplishments in spectacular fashion.
And now a pair of men recognized as the most innovative of the game have payed the price.
It all came crashing down on Monday when MLB suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year for their role in a high-tech sign-stealing scheme.
Within hours of the league announcement, which followed a lengthy MLB investigation, Astros owner Jim Crane fired both Luhnow and Hinch, cutting ties with the two figured so central to the Texas team’s success.
One World Series title in 2017 and a near miss again this past fall made the American League West team at once one of the more envied, and, as the suspicions of wrongdoing that trailed them, one of the most despised franchises in the sport. Now, they’ll be known as one of the most notorious for the brazen skullduggery they used to gain an edge.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred stopped short of saying the Astros electronic sign swiping significantly contributed to their success — and thus didn’t strip the team of its World Series crown. He did, however, levy one of the most significant punishments in professional sports history.
“While it is impossible to determine the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game,” Manfred said in his report.
Besides the suspensions to the key individuals in the Astros baseball operations, Manfred stripped the team of its first-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and levied a $5 million US fine, a maximum amount under the league’s constitution.
That Crane acted swiftly suggests the Astros owner was attempting to save face for the franchise, an almost impossible task given the circumstances. There is plenty of ill will towards the reigning AL champions throughout baseball as by this year’s World Series, whispers grew into more pointed suspicions that the team wasn’t on the up and up.
Sign stealing has long been a part of the game at the highest level, but using an elaborate electronic plan to enhance the process clearly crossed a line. The MLB investigation determined that the process was player driven but that management and coaches were well aware what has happening around them.
“When I found out I was very upset,” Crane said. “We want to be known as playing by the rules. We accept the punishment. Neither one of (Hinch or Luhnow) started it, but neither one of them did anything about it.
“That’s unfortunate and the consequences are severe.”
Tell that to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost the 2017 Fall Classic to the Astros. As talented as the Astros have been — with stars such as Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman — the fact that they were using technology to cheat during home games taints some of those accomplishments.
And the fact that the manager didn’t step in was found by Manfred to be reprehensible.
“As the person with responsibility for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justification for Hinch’s failure to act,” Manfred said in his report.
The MLB investigation revealed during the 2017 season, the Astros started using a centre field camera at Minute Maid Park to swipe the signs. A video monitor next to the Astros dugout captured the signs and players could relay the information by banging on a garbage can. The report suggested that two fans meant an off-speed pitch was coming and no noise meant a fastball.
“Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized,” the report states. “One or more players watched the live feed of the centre field camera on the monitor and then after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter.”
There’s a good chance that another member of that team’s coaching staff will get hit hard as well. Manfred strongly suggested that Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora was the mastermind behind the scheme and will be disciplined accordingly.
The commissioner pointed out in his nine-page ruling that the then Astros bench coach was instrumental in developing the system. MLB’s investigation of the Red Sox centres on Cora’s first season as Boston manager, a 2018 campaign that also ended in a World Series title.
“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” the report said. “Cora participated in both schemes and through his active participation, simplicity condoned the players’ conduct.”
The league’s investigation into the Astros began shortly after a Nov. 12 report in the Athletic in which former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers detailed the scheme.
Allegations trailed Houston on their run to this year’s World Series appearance against the Nationals in which Hinch defiantly and arrogantly denied the charges, “In reality, it’s a joke,” Hinch said prior to an ALCS game against the Yankees and then called for those making the allegations to come forward publicly.
“While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry,” a chastened Hinch said in a statement late Monday. “I regret being connected to these events, am disappointed in our club‘s actions within this timeline, and I accept the Commissioner’s decision.”
JAYS BENCH COACH WAS INVESTIGATED
As the hitting coach for the Houston Astros during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Dave Hudgens was of interest in the thorough MLB investigation of the now disgraced franchise.
According to the Jays, Hudgens cooperated with the league in its probe of the Astros sign-stealing allegations that on Monday led to the one-year suspension of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.
Hudgens was not mentioned specifically in the nine-page MLB report, however. He was named to first-year manager Charlie Montoyo’s staff as bench coach prior to the 2019 season.
“Dave is doing everything he can to help the investigation,” Jays general manager Ross Atkins said last month in San Diego at the Baseball Winter Meetings.
The MLB report said that its investigation interviewed 27 witnesses and reviewed thousands of emails and other electronic correspondence before revealing its findings on Monday.
What 2022 Holds for the Canadian Sports Betting Sector
After years of confusing legislation, Canada finally achieved some clarity with regard to its sports betting laws earlier this year. The passing of Bill C-218 saw single event betting become legalized for the first time, paving the way for sportsbooks and online operators to begin serving Canadian customers all across the country.
Since then, the industry has gone from strength to strength. Unsurprisingly, Ontario has led the way in terms of online competition, with a wide array of options for punters to choose from. Home to some 15 million people, Ontario is the fifth biggest jurisdiction in the USA and Canada and is expected to rival the likes of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Michigan in the coming years.
So with sports betting finally up and running in a more comprehensive format in Canada, what does the future hold? Here’s a quick look ahead to some of the biggest developments that are expected to occur in the next 12 months.
The ability to place bets on-the-go is something that customers have come to expect from their sportsbooks nowadays. Although the idea of sports betting on single events is still a relative novelty for many Canadians, it won’t be long before they begin to demand a truly mobile experience from their gambling provider, allowing them the freedom to lay wagers wherever, whenever and on whatever they please.
Thankfully, there is already a healthy infrastructure in place to deal with that demand. The list of sports betting apps in Canada is growing longer by the day, with sportsbook operators giving their customers round-the-clock access to better odds, up-to-the-minute stats and exclusive promotions and bonuses. There’s an app for everything these days – so it should come as no surprise that an increasing percentage of Canadians will choose to bet on their smartphone via the app in the coming months and years.
Even before the passing of Bill C-218 officially endorsed sports betting from a legal perspective, overseas operators had been serving a Canadian market for years. Although the practice was not legal prior to this summer, it wasn’t strictly illegal, either. This created a grey area which many foreign sportsbooks exploited, with some reports suggesting that billions of dollars were being funneled into them every year.
Now that the practice has become fair game for domestic operators, it should open the floodgates with regard to the number of available options. Early adopters and established names in the industry were quick to jump aboard the bandwagon, but more and more rivals will spring up as time goes on. This can only be good news for punters, since they will gain access to more lucrative incentives and better markets with the increased competition.
As well as increased competition among operators, it’s also likely that this excess supply will be met by ballooning demand. Indeed, a particularly bullish report from Deloitte Canada speculated that the industry could be worth a massive $28 billion inside five years. Given that it isn’t projected to exceed $1 billion in its first 12 months of operation, that’s quite a seismic shift.
What that means for players is that sports betting is likely to become endorsed and advertised with greater frequency. Collaborations between teams and individual athletes will enhance the profile of the sector, while lucrative sponsorship deals will benefit both parties. And of course, the government itself is poised to cash in on a significant revenue stream, potentially swelling its coffers for reinvestment in other areas of policy.
Another exciting possibility is the increased incorporation of technological advances into the sports betting experience. Fans can already benefit from livestreams of their favorite matches, as well as real-time analysis and in-play betting opportunities. However, the sky is the limit when it comes to tech and sports betting, since there are a variety of tantalizing innovations currently on the horizon.
Chief among these is the possibility of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) becoming a more central pillar of sportsbooks. Imagine if it were possible to view a sporting event in 3D, as if you were in the stadium yourself, all from the comfort of your own home? That kind of tech breakthrough might seem lightyears away, yet similar software is already commonplace in the world of gaming. If it could be adapted to live sporting events, it would dramatically alter the way in which sport is consumed (and bet upon) all across Canada. Watch this space for news on potential developments of VR and AR in 2022.
Although sports betting is still in its infancy in Canada, it has already made quite a splash among punters, operators and regulators alike. As the practice becomes more and more mainstream, it’s to be expected that it will both deliver higher revenues and benefit from greater investment – potentially creating some exciting times ahead.
Longtime NFL official Carl Madsen dies on way home from Chiefs-Titans – Yahoo Canada Sports
Carl Madsen, who had worked for the NFL as an official for more than 20 years, died on Sunday. He was 71.
According to NFL.com, Madsen died on his way home from Sunday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans, where he was working as a replay official.
While details are hazy on Madsen’s death, the Nashville Police Department told TMZ that early signs indicate Madsen suffered “a medical emergency” while driving on I-65 North. A spokesperson reportedly said officers answered a call about a motorist blocking a traffic lane and found Madsen unconscious at the scene.
Chest compressions were immediately administered once Madsen was removed from the vehicle, per the report, but he ultimately died after being transported to a nearby hospital. His exact cause of death remains unknown.
An Air Force veteran, Madsen spent 12 years as an on-field official from 1997 to 2008 before transitioning to his replay official role. He was reportedly tied with Paul Weidner as the league’s most experienced replay official.
“Carl Madsen was an NFL officiating fixture for more than two decades, first as a highly respected on-field official before transitioning to a replay role beginning in 2009,” NFL senior VP of officiating training and development Walt Anderson said in a statement. “A terrific friend and colleague, Carl’s love of football and dedication to officiating was ever-present, as he generously shared his time to mentor young officials at clinics across the country. A veteran of the Air Force, Carl had a tremendous spirit and will be greatly missed.”
NFL Referees Association president Scott Green also released a statement to Pro Football Talk:
“Carl will be missed by those who worked with him on the field and in replay,” Green said. “He had a nickname among his fellow officials of “Big Country” which was not only related to his size but to his big personality as a warm and generous man.”
Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Campbell, Spezza, Engvall, Calling Leaders – The Hockey Writers
Where did Saturday’s game come from? In the three seasons that I’ve covered the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was one of the strangest games I watched. The team was overwhelmed. There was every chance to come in and play well against what should have been an under-manned Pittsburgh Penguins’ squad; but, a final score of 7-1 for the Penguins shows it didn’t happen.
The question that remains for the Maple Leafs as a team is whether this current funk is a short one or whether it’s symptomatic of deeper issues. There’s a saying attributed to William Arthur Ward that “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
The question now is what the Maple Leafs will do to adjust the sails. Although there’s great value in optimism, for as optimistic a face as head coach Sheldon Keefe shows the public, having watched him in the Amazon Prime Documentary “All or Nothing,” you have to know Keefe isn’t singing “Kum Ba Yah” behind the scenes when he’s not answering the media’s questions.
Keefe’s a realist and is surrounded by realists. What will happen now? In this edition of Maple Leafs’ News & Rumors, I’ll take a look at Jack Campbell’s odd night. Second, I’ll look at Jason Spezza’s continuing contributions to the team. Finally, I’ll consider Maple Leafs’ current team leadership.
Item One: Time for a Jack Campbell Mulligan
The stats line shows that Maple Leafs’ starting goalie Jack Campbell let in five goals on 21 shots during Saturday’s 7-1 loss to the Penguins. That isn’t the Campbell we know from either last season or thus far this season. The second period did him in when he let in four goals in 20 minutes.
By the third, coach Keefe had enough and put in Michael Hutchinson to close out the obvious defeat. Given that the 29-year-old Campbell entered the game with a 2-0-1 season’s record, a goals-against-average of 1.18, and a save percentage of .953 in four games, he deserves a mulligan.
Honestly, it’s hard for me to lay a guilt trip on a goalie who had, until Saturday’s game, only given up two or fewer goals in each of his first four starts. Here’s hoping, although Campbell might have fallen in one game, that he can get up quickly.
Item Two: Jason Spezza Continues to Produce
No surprise, the one player whose game seemed unaffected by the circumstances was Jason Spezza. He scored a goal to tie the game early and gave Maple Leafs’ fans early hope that all was not lost. It was the last goal the team would score.
Spezza continues to show up. In six games to start the 2021-22 campaign, he’s scored three goals and added two assists (for five points). Last season, he scored 10 goals and 20 assists (for 30 points) in 54 games. He shows no signs of a let-up.
Item Three: How Did Pierre Engvall Emerge with a Plus-One Rating?
One amazing scoresheet surprise has to be that Pierre Engvall emerged with a plus-one rating on the night. How does a player play 13:21 minutes during a 7-1 loss and come out on the positive side of the ledger? I have no comment on Engvall’s game because I didn’t notice the statistic until I looked at the box score after the game.
Engvall had an assist on Spezza’s goal but was miraculously not on for any Penguins’ goals. That just seems amazing and was perhaps the only positive statistic the Maple Leafs can show for the game.
Item Four: Considering Team Leadership
Each offseason the team’s management gets together to talk about what moves it can make during the offseason to improve the team. Last season, the management decided to bring in outside players to provide leadership. Chief among those players was Joe Thornton. I believe he provided that aspect of leadership and the team was better for his presence. Even if his play was less than expected, he helped the team.
During this offseason, I believe management thought it was time for the team’s internal leadership to take the next leadership step. Specifically, it was time for Jake Muzzin, Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner to take the reins. The team’s management reasoned that group had seasoned enough to do that job. In addition, Wayne Simmonds and Spezza remained to help.
As a result, this season, the team is different because management didn’t bring in outside players for leadership. That leadership now must come from within – starting with Matthews, Marner, and Tavares. The results on the ice suggest that it hasn’t happened yet.
As my sometimes collaborator and long-time Maple Leafs’ fan Stan Smith emailed me after the game, if these players are to lead they’ll have to do it by example. So far, it isn’t happening – not yet anyway,
If this team is to come out of its current crisis, that leadership must emerge soon.
What’s Next for This Maple Leafs?
The Maple Leafs must try to shake off this blowout before they meet ex-teammate Frederik Andersen and the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday. You can only imagine that Andersen is waiting to exact some payback against his old team.
Winning in Carolina won’t be easy for the Maple Leafs. The Hurricanes are 4 – 0. Andersen’s only given up seven goals in four games, and he’ll be ready. It might be another disaster, or it could be a chance for redemption. That it’s the Maple Leafs’ third game in four nights, this one might take some lucky bounces or the immediate emergence of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
Is it too naive for Maple Leafs’ fans to be optimistic?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf
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