The Houston Astros are trying to put the cheating scandal behind them, but fans and their opponents won’t let them. During the team’s first spring training game on Saturday, they were heckled and booed — in their own stadium.
The Astros were playing the Washington Nationals. The two teams share FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Florida. The crowd, however, was very much pro-Washington.
The booing began before the first pitch when Houston’s mascot was booed when he came on the field. It continued when Astros players appeared. Most of the principles in the cheating scandal, where Houston players were found to have stolen signs from opposing players during the 2017 season and the World Series, weren’t in the lineup.
Houston manager Dusty Baker told reporters the lineup had nothing to do with any expected fan reaction.
“I’m curious about most of them because I don’t know them,” Baker said. “I’m more curious about the young players that may help us at the start of the season or as the season goes on. So you can have some input on the decision of who’s on your team.”
Heckling a Sign of Events to Come?
While Baker was rather casual about the fans’ behavior, management has been on the offensive. Stadium personnel confiscated signs critical of the team that fans brought to the ball field. The Athletic reported the team took away a lawyer’s season seats for their minor league affiliate because he was suing the team over the cheating scandal.
— Kristie Rieken (@kristieAP) February 22, 2020
Management didn’t say whether they would remove fans from the stadium if they’re heckling ballplayers. One fan was caught on a microphone saying, “He’s wearing a buzzer,” a remark related to one of the tools Houston players used to cheat.
Baker said that the booing wasn’t that bad, and it didn’t affect Houston’s play. What might affect his team’s performance, however, are pitchers throwing at Astros batters in retaliation for stealing signs during the 2017 season.
Baker says he’s concerned about retaliation, especially when he hears comments from players like Cleveland pitcher Mike Clevinger. Clevinger hinted that he would throw at Houston batters.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said the league won’t tolerate any intentional beanballs. He told reporters last week that pitchers will face serious discipline for throwing at batters.
“We have been working on for some time a memorandum about being hit by pitches, intentionally throwing at batters,” Manfred said. “It’s really dangerous, really a dangerous undertaking. Completely independent of the Astros investigation, we will be issuing at the beginning of this week a memorandum on hit by pitches which will increase the ramifications of that type of behavior.”
Odds Favor Beanings
Oddsmakers are skeptical pitchers will heed Manfred’s warning. They put out several prop bets on the probability of Houston players getting hit by a pitch.
Three sportsbooks – William Hill, BetOnline, and Sportsbetting.ag – all have wagers on a variety of possibilities, including overs/unders on how many times Houston batters will get hit this season, how many times certain players get hit by a pitch, and even if an Astros player will charge the mound.
The Los Angeles Angels will face Houston in their home opener and Angels’ manager Joe Maddon says he won’t instruct his pitchers to throw at any Astros batters during the game.
The controversy has also affected the Astros’ World Series odds. The Astros were the 4/1 favorite to win the 2020 championship when odds were released in October. They’ve now fallen to 8/1, behind both the New York Yankees (3/1) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (4/1).