It’s been three months since Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox parted ways in a bizarre press conference, the team going out of its way to stress a man appearing responsible for multiple illegal sign-stealing scandals wasn’t being fired, or departing for anything he did with the under-investigation 2018 Red Sox.
The refrain that January afternoon from Kennedy, primary owner John Henry (of both the Boston Red Sox and Boston Globe Media Partners, including Boston.com), chairman Tom Werner, and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was to reserve judgment in the face of MLB investigating illegal sign stealing during Boston’s 2018 championship season.
The results of that inquiry are still yet to be published thanks largely to COVID-19, something Bloom admitted Wednesday on WEEI was “obviously frustrating,” but our perspective has already changed. Cora, implied as the mastermind of Houston’s 2017 sign-stealing efforts in MLB’s January report, was not its driving force.
And the 2018 Red Sox believe the delay in MLB releasing its findings is keeping them from being exonerated. That’s been abundantly clear from the comments of no less than 10 players from that team.
The World Series MVP officially announced his retirement Monday, going on to tell WEEI’s Mike Mutnansky the allegations levied in The Athletic — based on conversations with three people who were with the team that season — are bogus.
“That’s such a joke to us. When it came out, we were all kind of joking about it,” Pearce said. “We just want this to pass us. We won it fair and square. Whatever they accused us of, we were all kind of like, ‘I can’t believe this is even an issue.’ Once the report comes out, we’re all going to be free.
“You don’t like it, especially that we were the champions and individually I have that award. And we have this floating over our head when we just had such an unbelievable season. We had the perfect team and great camaraderie with everybody and then this gets thrown out here. We’re just like, ‘What the heck?’ … Another bump in the road, I guess.”
The first member of the team to speak out was, not surprisingly, its public face following Mookie Betts’s departure. Though he largely declined to talk about the investigation, Bogaerts said he had zero belief it tainted the team’s 119-win season and ninth championship.
“Nah, absolutely not,” said Bogaerts at the annual Boston Baseball Writers dinner on Jan. 16, the first major team event following Cora’s departure. “We came to the park every day, we worked hard, we practiced hard, worked as teammates, and had each other’s back. We had a great coaching staff along with that.”
A month later, the Los Angeles Times quoted Bogaerts in an extensive piece on the allegations as saying he was “pretty confident” nothing would be found.
“There’s a lot of chatter, you hear lot of stuff going on, a lot of stuff that hasn’t been answered yet,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
A vociferous student of video whose arrival in Boston immediately made the rest of the lineup better, Martinez was the first to unequivocally make clear he thought the Red Sox were not guilty of anything. At the team’s Winter Weekend in Springfield on Jan. 18, the same week as Cora’s departure, Martinez said he was excited for the investigation to get over with.
“Just so they can see there was nothing going on here,” he told reporters. “Everyone seems to forget that 2016-17, this team was a really good team. We just got better.”
Once in Fort Myers, Martinez added another detail: He didn’t learn of Houston’s illegal efforts first from Cora, Houston’s 2017 bench coach. He learned them from Mike Fiers, the former Houston pitcher who first reported the Astros scheme to the league, then went public when MLB dragged its feet.
“He was amazing at picking up things the right way,” Martinez said of Cora. “These guys here, the guys that we have, they’re so good at every little thing. Any little hiccup they’ll find it. But you can put me on any [lie] detector you want, I’ll volunteer it. That never happened here.”
The breakout star of the 2019 team played his first full MLB season as a 21-year-old the prior year, cracking 21 home runs and establishing himself as the third baseman of the future. Speaking to the Globe’s Stan Grossfeld during a January workout in Florida, he minced no words about how the 2018 Red Sox did what they did.
“We didn’t cheat. We have a lot of talent. We don’t need to cheat, and we became champs without cheating,” he said. “They can continue investigating, but that’s why they haven’t found anything, because we didn’t cheat.”
Speaking to reporters in Fort Myers on Feb. 13, the 2018 team’s No. 2 hitter expressed little concern about the league’s investigation.
“We know what’s going on, and we know that we didn’t do anything. As far as what the report’s going to say, whatever it says, it says,” Benintendi said. “I think we’re all just looking forward to 2020. I think all of us are confident in what’s going to come out. All we can do is focus on baseball. There’s a lot of distractions, obviously. We’re all just ready to focus on this year.”
Jackie Bradley Jr.
The center fielder is among those Red Sox who were here in 2017, when the team was fined for illegal electronics in the dugout. A Fitbit, according to the late Nick Cafardo, was used in a system to get opposition signs from the video room to players in the dugout, to baserunners, to hitters. In the midst of it, Bradley Jr. cracked wise, tapping his wrist on his way back to the dugout following a home run.
He was just as emphatic when talking about the more recent allegations in February.
“They’ll find out soon enough. I mean, it’s one of those things where you just wait and don’t pass judgment until you know the truth,” he said. “So many people are so quick to pass the blame and this and that. Until you know all the truths, I would advise you to wait and then go from there.”
Mookie Betts/David Price
The allegations had been public for nearly a month when the blockbuster trade of one-time MVP Mookie Betts and one-time Cy Young winner David Price to Los Angeles was finalized. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked by Joel Sherman of the New York Post whether there was any concern about making such a blockbuster trade before MLB’s findings were out.
“I know with our front office, we do a lot of our due diligence before we make a deal,” Roberts said. “We have no questions or any concerns, none at all.”
Price actually did offer a thought after leaving town, telling The Athletic’s Pedro Moura that he “expects nothing” will come out of the Red Sox investigation. (Additionally, commissioner Rob Manfred granted players immunity in the Houston investigation, knowing he’d likely lose appeals on any suspensions he levied.)
The 2017 Astros rolled through the Red Sox in a four-game Division Series. Most notably, Sale gave up three home runs in a disastrous Game 1 at Minute Maid Park, his first career postseason start.
“I was standing out on the mound, I was like, ‘How the hell are they doing [this]?’ They’re hitting breaking balls over the fence. Hitting fastballs at their neck. And yeah, it crosses your mind,” Sale said, six weeks before his Tommy John diagnosis. “I’m not going to sit here and say they were because I don’t have 100 percent evidence. I mean I guess there is in the investigation. But that specific scenario, I don’t know.”
As for his team?
“You saw me play last year. You know I wasn’t cheating,” he quipped, referencing his career-worst 6-11, 4.40 ERA season in 2019. “I gave [MLB] every bit of information I had. We have no reason to lie. We’ll see what happens.”
A pitcher’s perspective on sign stealing is certainly different to that of a hitter, but speaking to the New York Post after signing with the Mets in February, Porcello — who won 18 games and led the Red Sox in innings in 2018 — echoed the feelings of his former bosses.
“My immediate reaction was, I’d like to hear and see more before you just start saying that something like this was going with us and whatever was happening wasn’t happening with every other team around the league,” Porcello said. “All I know is every team has a certain amount of technology that they have access to during the game.”
Quoted in the LA Times piece, Moreland — the starting first baseman in 2018 and a somewhat surprising recipient of a new contract in 2020 — kept things closer to the vest, but had similar views to his teammates.
“I can’t really answer any questions about any of that stuff because our investigation is still ongoing,” he said, “but to my knowledge, there’s nothing that they can come down on us for.”
He continued, in a conversation with the Globe‘s Dan Shaughnessy: “From what I remember from it, we were just a good team and we went out and we prepared well and we won it. That’s the best team I’ve ever played on.”
Some of the more expansive comments on the Red Sox practices in 2018 came from one of their bit players. Kinsler was acquired from the Angels at the trade deadline, appearing in 48 games, including 11 in the postseason. (His two-out throwing error in the 13th inning of Game 3 helped the Dodgers tie a game they eventually won in 18.)
The four-time All-Star second baseman retired with 1,999 career hits after playing 2019 in San Diego, taking an advisory job with the team in December. Speaking to 96.7 The Ticket in Dallas in February, the former Rangers star furthered the idea that pulling signs from the video room in-game is widespread, and what Boston was doing in 2018 — relaying signs to a baserunner — was far less egregious than Houston’s defiant system involving trash cans and a dedicated TV monitor.
“In my opinion, it’s not anywhere close to what’s going on here [in Houston]. The Red Sox were just a very tight-knit group. When I was injected into that team in the middle of the season, it was a lot like the Rangers clubs that I was on where it was just a very tight-knit group and their system was flawless,” Kinsler said. “They just had a very good system at relaying from second base to home plate, and that was it. Honestly.”
Kinsler believes baseball needs to eliminate in-game video access if they want to root out sign stealing via technology. (Something J.D. Martinez has come out against.) The temptation to peek, when hitters routinely go over every at-bat during games to check for swing flaws, simply can’t be eliminated.
“I’m going to go back again and I’m going to check out the signs and see if I can crack ’em,” Kinsler said. “If I can, I can. If I can’t, I can’t.”
“I’m interested to see what happens with this whole report because I truly believe that they’re not going to find anything that’s substantial. I mean, they might throw a small punishment out there because they did a report. I don’t know. I don’t where they stand on this whole thing. We saw where they stood on the Astros thing. I just really don’t see any form of punishment coming out to the Red Sox. It was a very good team.
“And in the playoffs, we couldn’t … you’re playing against the best teams. All the best teams know what’s going on. … We got a game into the playoffs with the Red Sox, and we couldn’t run our system. Because it was just too difficult.”