Dusty Readying Astros for Liftoff
Let’s assume that we are going to have an MLB season without any hiccups, interruptions, protestations or, heaven forbid, cancellations. It’s far from a sure thing at this point, with players testing positive for COVID-19 around the league, but we all need some good news and right now the MLB season will commence with a 60-game schedule and if that’s their story then we will be happy to stick to it.
Houston has been under intense scrutiny due to their role in the sign-stealing scandal that rocked the league and tarnished the franchise’s reputation. There has even been talk that opposing pitchers will be drilling Astros’ batters with regularity this season in retaliation. Nevertheless, Houston has a ferocious lineup and an impressive stable of pitchers even without All-Star Gerrit Cole serving as the No. 2 man in the rotation behind Justin Verlander. It is little wonder you can expect to see the Astros near the top of oddsmaker’s list to win the AL Pennant and the World Series.
After coming within eight outs of capturing their second World Series title in three years last season the Astros have a new manager in Dusty Baker, replacing the embroiled AJ Hinch, and a new general manager, James Click, who took over for the deposed Jeff Luhnow. Baker has all the credentials to get an invitation to Cooperstown when his playing days are over except the most important one – a World Series ring.
“It would mean the first of two,” Dusty said of winning a World Series. “I always said, ‘If I win one, I will win two.’ I still believe that. I believe it is already written. I feel badly for AJ Hinch because he is a good guy. I like him a lot. … If I win one, I’ll win two.”
At age 71, Baker is a well-respected, paternal figure and one who ownership is hoping can be a calming influence and guiding force to those who have come under fire for their roles in the wake of a scandal-plagued season, “I’ve been through some stuff and maybe I can help these guys through some of this because all my life has not been all rosy either. A lot of it has been great, but some of it has been trying. Some of it has been a test of faith. Some of it has been my fault. Some of it was not my fault. But you have to claim it all.”
Umps Opting Out
Currently, there are 91 major League umpires but reports are circulating that 11 of them are planning on sitting out the truncated 2020 season due to concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan was to use 19 umpiring crews, with four per crew, for a total of 76 umps participating in the season. With 11 taking a pass, that leaves only 80 MLB umpires to fill 76 spots, leaving little room for backup.
One veteran umpire who won’t be deterred is Joe West. The veteran crew chief recently caused waves when he questioned the veracity of the number of corona-related deaths being reported, “Those statistics aren’t accurate, I don’t care who’s counting them. When country music [singer] Joe Diffie died, they said he died of the coronavirus. He had Stage 4 lung cancer. The coronavirus may have accelerated his death, but let’s be realistic. Our system is so messed up they have emptied hospitals because there’s no elective surgery. The government has been giving these hospitals extra money if someone dies of the coronavirus. So, everybody that dies is because of coronavirus. I don’t care if you get hit by a car, it’s coronavirus.’’
When the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal asked about West’s well-being in light of his age, West stated, “If this game hasn’t gotten me by now, no virus is going to get me. I’ve weathered a bunch of storms in my life. I’ll weather another one.”
Naturally, Major League Baseball was less than thrilled at West’s candor and shortly thereafter the MLB Umpires Association released a statement that their medical precautions and protocols were thoroughly in place and all members were expected to act accordingly and maintain the highest degree of safety.