Houston accused of more wrongdoing

New report of illegal sign-stealing puts Astros back under scrutiny

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Back in 2017, the Houston Astros could be considered the darlings of the MLB. They helped pull a Harvey-ravaged city out of despair and into a celebration in a matter of months with the acquisition of Justin Verlander and subsequent World Series victory. The young team full of potential suddenly had the attention of not only fans but other MLB clubs and the league's front office.

On Tuesday, that attention reared itself yet again in a severely negative way, with the Athletic reporting (subscription required) that former-Astro Mike Fiers was alleging and confirming that his former team used illegal means to steal signs in their 2017 championship season. Fiers, along with three other anonymous sources with the team in 2017, claims that the team used cameras and other technology to monitor opposing catchers to relay signs to batters in real-time. The Astros have released the following statement:

"Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball. It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."

While GM Jeff Luhnow had this to say:

Another negative blow to the team's reputation

This is not the first time the Astros have been under a microscope in recent years, the most recent being less than a month ago when assistant general manager Brandon Taubman taunted reporters in the Astros clubhouse following their ALCS series-clinching win. The Astros fumbled that event, coming out with a rebuttal against the reporter, which would eventually be retracted, and Taubman terminated from his employment.

Neither is this the first time the Astros have dealt with accusations of sign-stealing and other forms of cheating. In this year's ALCS, the Yankees complained about a "whistling" noise from Houston's dugout they believed to be a method of relaying pitches to batters at the plate. Also, in the 2018 postseason, the Astros found themselves under fire for having an employee taking photos of the opposing team's dugout.

It's just part of the game until it's not

Both pitch tipping and stealing signs are things that are nearly unavoidable in baseball. With the catcher having to relay a sign to the pitcher 60.5 feet away using his hands, the opposing team will inevitably try to decipher what's coming. The same is true of tipping, where if a pitcher has a tell before a specific pitch, that information will quickly spread through the dugout.

However, there is a line teams should not cross, and that comes by way of utilizing technology to aid further the ability to steal signs, and using that to give an immediate advantage to a batter amid an at-bat. The Astros are not the first team to be alleged of this type of grievance, as the Red Sox received a fine after utilizing a smartwatch to try and steal signs.

It's a widely known and accepted fact that teams will try anything within reason to get a leg up on their opponent. However, with technology ever improving both for organizations to use and be caught by, it's no surprise that this is becoming an issue that the MLB will have to deal with, and soon.

Ramifications could loom large

Will the Astros be found guilty and made an example of to deter other teams for trying similar tactics? It appears we will have to wait for the conclusion of this investigation to find out. While it may not be an indictment of the entire team, it will bring into question the integrity and character of many of the team.

Still, no matter the outcome, the report alone and continued negativity surrounding the Astros organization has made them villains of many, a role that many would not have expected this team to play if asked just two years ago.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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