Rob Manfred attacks ‘very problematic’ Astros culture with discipline – Sportsnet.ca
TORONTO – There is so much in Major League Baseball’s justifiably harsh discipline of the Houston Astros that is unprecedented. The suite of personal, financial and draft penalties handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred, prompting team owner Jim Crane to fire both GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, is among the most severe in the game’s long and at times sordid history. This is 1919 Chicago Black Sox and Pete Rose gambling territory, wholly appropriate whenever the sport’s integrity is placed in such grave danger.
Given that we were here back in 2017, when the Boston Red Sox were caught cheating with smart watches and were only fined for the hustle, some worried the Astros would escape with another slap on the wrist. Instead, Manfred delivered a punch to the face that should resonate with those who want to push the fine line between legit gamesmanship and illicit cheating.
Everyone now knows the consequences, and boy are they real.
Still, more remarkable, in some ways, is the fashion in which Manfred publicly vilified a baseball operations culture he described as “very problematic” in a thorough and well-reasoned nine-page decision released to media. Given that it was the brazen and shameful harassment of three female reporters by fired assistant GM Brandon Taubman during a post-season celebration that triggered the initial probe into the Astros’ front office, that’s significant, and surely forced Crane’s hand in firing one of the smartest executives in the sport.
Can’t exactly bring a guy back from a season-long ban and move forward as if nothing happened when Manfred writes that, “at least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture – one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to the Brandon Taubman incident, the club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”
Take a second to wrap your mind around that. When is the last time a commissioner of any sport issued such a comprehensive rebuke of a club’s core being?
He just crushed them.
Then, as if anticipating the Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” defence, Luhnow offered in a statement that he both accepted responsibility and blamed underlings, including, without directly naming him, Alex Cora, the former bench coach and current Red Sox manager.
Via an attorney, Jeff Luhnow released this statement pic.twitter.com/ZNbKzb6EBI
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) January 13, 2020
Manfred made clear that ignorance doesn’t absolve one of responsibility.
“Regardless of the level of Luhnow’s actual knowledge, the Astros’ violation of rules in 2017 and 2018 is attributable, in my view, to a failure by the leaders of the baseball operations department and the field manager to adequately manage the employees under their supervision,” wrote Manfred, “to establish a culture in which adherence to the rules is ingrained in the fabric of the organization, and to stop bad behaviour as soon as it occurred.”
In other words, if it happens on your watch, you own it, which is the way it should be, and for their troubles, aside from having to cough up $5 million and two first-round picks and two second-round picks, the Astros must find a new GM and manager. Considering that they’re carrying a beyond-the-luxury-tax payroll projected at $216 million, losing two top leaders a month away from spring training is rather detrimental to leveraging an expensive roster.
(A tangent here, but John Gibbons makes sense as manager for a win-now team in desperate need of stability, offering a steadying hand the way Jim Fregosi did when the Toronto Blue Jays fired Tim Johnson in the spring of ’99.)
So, examples have been made – something Major League Baseball should have done in 2017 with the Red Sox, perhaps establishing a deterrent then that would have prevented all this – and the real question now is whether it’s enough for the game to move forward.
Discipline still looms for Cora, depicted in the report as the Astros mastermind, for his role in a similar sign-stealing plan with the 2018 Red Sox, and the burden may be higher there given that he’s violated the rules with two clubs now.
Whether Cora can survive in a way Luhnow and Hinch did not will be closely watched, but how things sit among players is even more interesting.
Privately, players have long whispered that the Astros aren’t the only ones doing it, that other clubs engage in dark arts, too. The relative silence of the Los Angeles Dodgers – who lost the World Series in 2017 to the Astros and in ’18 to the Red Sox – makes you wonder if they’re reluctant to cast stones because they too have sinned.
And hey, maybe there really was a Man in White employed by the Toronto Blue Jays to relay signs from the centre-field seats. Wait, that was last decade? Doesn’t matter, better hide him guys, stat.
Seriously, though, how deep a dive to take into the sign-stealing cesspool makes for an interesting debate. How will players that feel cheated out of numbers and service time react? Does baseball need a Mitchell Report on steroids examination into who did what when with electronic sign-stealing? Is this Astros pound of flesh enough to deter the bold and immoral?
Murky, ground, all of it.
Regardless, the rules of engagement for would-be-cheaters is now clear. Manfred has established a baseline punishment to fit the crime, and he’ll run reputations into the ground as he shows perpetrators out the door, too.
Novak Djokovic progresses to a record 17th French Open quarterfinal as he beats Juan Pablo Varillas – CNN
On a sun kissed but windy Parisian afternoon Novak Djokovic broke one of Rafael Nadal’s French Open records as he progressed to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
A straightforward 6-3 6-2 6-2 win over Peru’s Juan Pablo Varillas on Sunday ensured Djokovic progressed to the last eight at the French Open for a record 17th time, surpassing the absent Rafael Nadal on 16.
The win also inched the Serb closer to a men’s record 23rd career grand slam. Djokovic is currently level with Nadal, who announced Saturday that he would be out of action for at least five months after undergoing hip surgery, on 22 grand slams.
Varillas is ranked 94th in the world but at Roland Garros became the first Peruvian in 29 years to reach the fourth round of a grand slam.
He was no match for world No.3 Djokovic, however, who will next play Russian Karen Khachanov, the 11th seed.
It has been a controversial week for the Serb who made headlines after sending a political message about Kosovo earlier in the tournament, something which he later said he stood by.
After his first round victory on Monday, Djokovic wrote “Kosovo is the [heart symbol] of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a TV camera lens in response to violent clashes in Kosovo. Tensions have been rising in the past week in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
“Of course, I’m aware that a lot of people would disagree, but it is what it is,” Djokovic said on Wednesday after his second-round victory against Hungary’s Márton Fucsovics. “It’s something that I stand for. So that’s all.”
“A drama-free grand slam, I don’t think it can happen for me,” he added on Wednesday. “You know, I guess that drives me as well.”
Blue Jays' Chris Bassitt announces birth of child to cap 'perfect weekend' – Yahoo Canada Sports
The Toronto Blue Jays had a memorable few days in New York, thanks to a three-game sweep of the Mets, but that’s not the biggest reason starting pitcher Chris Bassitt is all smiles these days.
Bassitt and his wife, Jessica, welcomed their second child over the weekend, with the veteran right-hander reporting that both mother and baby are doing well.
“Perfect weekend complete,” Bassitt wrote on Twitter. “Momma and Colson are doing great.”
Jessica went into labour Friday, while her husband took his normal turn in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Bassitt channelled all of his “dad strength” in that outing against the Mets, firing 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball with eight strikeouts in a 3-0 Toronto win. In a cruel twist from the universe, the start of the game was delayed more than 90 minutes due to inclement weather.
Once his outing was over, Bassitt rushed back to Toronto via private plane to be with Jessica for Colson’s birth. He made it in plenty of time, tweeting Saturday morning that the baby hadn’t arrived yet.
The 34-year-old will now be able to enjoy a few days with his family, as the Blue Jays placed him on the paternity list Saturday. Reliever Jay Jackson took his place on the 26-man roster.
Bassitt’s Blue Jays teammates gave him even more reason to cheer by eking out a 2-1 victory Saturday before getting the brooms out with a 6-4 win in the series finale.
Brandon Belt was the hero Sunday, connecting for a go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh inning after Toronto squandered an early 4-0 advantage. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. also went deep for the Blue Jays, while Whit Merrifield delivered a two-run double in the second inning.
Next up, Toronto welcomes the Houston Astros to Rogers Centre for a four-game series that begins Monday. Bassitt is listed as the probable starter for Wednesday’s contest.
Rory McIlroy (T-1) falls back on short game, stays positive with chance at Memorial
DUBLIN, Ohio – Rory McIlroy will set out Sunday afternoon at Jack’s Place looking to secure the second leg of the “Legends Slam” with a swing that’s well short of perfect and no shortage of would-be spoilers lurking.
He couldn’t be happier.
For the third consecutive day at the Memorial, McIlroy leaned on luck and grit to keep pace with the co-leaders – Si Woo Kim and David Lipsky – at 6 under par with 10 other players within two shots of the lead. Betting lines will undoubtedly favor the world No. 3 against the other contenders, but the truth is he has no idea what to expect when he sets out in the week’s final group.
Full-field scores from the Memorial Tournament
“I don’t think I hit a green from the eighth hole through the 14th hole, and I played those holes in even par,” McIlroy shrugged following his third-round 70. “Chip in on 12 [for birdie] and got it up-and-down from some tricky spots. I was really happy with how I scored out there and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day.”
If McIlroy’s happy-to-be-here take doesn’t match with his world-beater persona, it’s the honest byproduct of a swing that he’s repeatedly said is a work in progress. Saturday’s round on a hard-and-fast course was the most-recent example of his very real struggle.
There was the chip-in for birdie at No. 12 from 25 feet and scrambling pars at Nos. 8, 11, 13 and 14. The major champion, whose career has been written with an overwhelming driver and sublime iron play, has now fully embraced the scrappy life.
“Embracing it,” he smiled. “There was a couple of shots out there when I missed the greens that I was sort of looking forward to hit. I think it’s embracing that challenge and embracing the fact that you’re probably not going to hit more than 12 or 13 greens out there. I think with how my short game’s been this week it’s something I’ve been able to fall back on, which has been great.”
To be fair, Rory is still Rory off the tee. He’s eighth this week in strokes gained: off the tee and second in driving distance, which at Muirfield Village is an accomplishment considering host Jack Nicklaus’ mission is to take driver out of the hands of the game’s top players.
Where the challenge has come is from the fairway and, despite his lofty status among the leaders, Saturday’s effort was his statistically worst of the week with just 7 of 18 greens in regulation and a loss to the field (1.71 shots) in strokes gained: approach the green.
Still, he’s the easy favorite with 18 holes remaining and for good reason. Other than Kim, who has four PGA Tour victories including the 2017 Players Championship, the next six players on the board have a combined four Tour victories.
“It’s a big tournament and I’ve got quite a bit of experience in that and you would like to think that gives you a little bit of an advantage,” McIlroy said. “Everyone’s going to go out there tomorrow and, regardless of where you are in the tournament, this golf course makes you a little uncomfortable anyway. So, everyone’s going to be feeling like that. With the way the leaderboard is and how bunched it is, it’s just going to come down to who can sort of hold their head the most coming down the stretch.”
Considering his own assessment of his swing, keeping a positive outlook doesn’t seem to be a problem for McIlroy this week. It might have something to do with what has admittedly been a rough couple of weeks, which stretch back to his missed cut at the Masters. Or it might just be the opportunity.
When he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2018, it was two years after that tournament’s host and legend had died. For a player who grew up idolizing The King, it was a bittersweet accomplishment and a part of why Sunday at Muirfield Village is likely to mean more than the sum of its parts.
“To be able to walk up that hill from 18 and get that handshake from Jack would be pretty nice,” he said. “I won Arnold’s tournament a few years ago, but he had already passed by that time. So it would be so nice to be able to do it and have Jack be there.”
It’s been an interesting year for McIlroy both on and off the course, which at least partially explains a lightness in his step that had been missing. There was also a message from his sports psychologist, Bob Rotella, last week that appeared to resonate with the 23-time Tour winner: “You are going to win your fare share of golf tournaments. You tee it up to see what your fare share is.”
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