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Baseball Unrest Persists As Angry Players Opine On Houston Astros Scandal

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Major League Baseball and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred were hoping stiff penalties levied against the Houston Astros last month for stealing signs would be enough. But the scandal won't go away. Star players from around the league continue to weigh in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

CODY BELLINGER: You know, I thought the apologies were whatever. I thought Manfred's punishment was weak.

NICK MARKAKIS: I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating. They're messing with people's careers.

AARON JUDGE: Other guys - the guys that lost their jobs because of it, guys that went into Houston and got beat up a little bit and never made it back to the big leagues. You know, that's - really can't tolerate that.

KELLY: That was Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Nick Markakis of the Atlanta Braves and Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees, all speaking this week.

Joining me now via Skype is Evan Drellich of The Athletic. Evan Drellich, welcome back.

EVAN DRELLICH: Thanks for having me.

KELLY: So what snags my ear there is listening to Aaron Judge, who almost never says anything controversial, sounding mad. How angry are players?

DRELLICH: There are a lot of factors here that have riled up players. For one, people simply feel robbed. The Yankees were one of the teams that the 2017 Astros beat in the playoffs - playing time, opportunities, you know, young pitchers who might have faced the Astros in 2017 but were promptly sent down after getting hit hard because the Astros had an unfair advantage.

And you also have a situation where the Astros themselves don't appear contrite. They don't seem to be falling on the sword the way they need to after doing something that the rest of the sport feels was so egregious. So you're seeing the players react accordingly and blaming essentially the parent in the room, Commissioner Rob Manfred, for not punishing the players.

KELLY: Let me inject one more player into the mix, which is the players union, the MLB union, traditionally one of the strongest in sports. It confirmed yesterday that it would have fought any punishments being levied against players. Should players on other teams be mad at their own union?

DRELLICH: I think if players gain a full understanding of their union's function - and frankly, they don't always have that understanding - they would realize that the union is doing what it is legally obligated to do, which is represent all of its members fairly, and that includes members who are accused of wrongdoing. But the players have a way to rectify this themselves now, which is to work out a deal with MLB that allows for punishment in the future. And that's what the sides are working on right now.

KELLY: One possibility I have heard floated is that players may take punishment into their own hands - literally into their own hands - and pitchers might start intentionally beaming Astros hitters this year. Have you heard that?

DRELLICH: Yes, that's been out there. Some pitchers have intimated as much even publicly. It's an old act in the sport that you police wrongdoing by throwing at batters. But as people have become a little bit more enlightened, there's been a realization that throwing a baseball upwards of a hundred miles per hour in the direction of another person's body is very dangerous. And MLB is at least suggesting that if anyone attempts to do this, they will themselves face punishment.

KELLY: I want people listening to know you helped break this story for The Athletic last year about the Astros and cheating. Does it point toward what might be a very ugly season this year for baseball?

DRELLICH: It could be ugly. It could also be, in a backwards way, exciting. Some people have pointed out that MLB is now generating the kind of drama that will draw people to the sport. I think there's an opportunity for both - for people to now have a villain, which frankly does drive storylines. But there is a real sadness here. You're talking about an issue that strikes at the core of integrity of our national pastime and something that's very hard in particular for the fans of Houston.

KELLY: That is Evan Drellich of The Athletic.

Thanks very much.

DRELLICH: Thanks, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ST. VINCENT SONG, "SURGEON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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