How Many Brawls Will the Houston Astros Be Subjected To This Season?

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Topic ideas centered around the Houston Astros have been summarily rejected due to the entirely understandable sense of being “Astro’d out”. Everyone is talking about it. Everyone is commenting on it. There is no end in sight. Still, with the story refusing to go away as Major League Baseball and the Astros clearly want it to, it seems to be a daily occurrence with players coming out with stronger statements about how the Astros should be dealt with.

The Astros have certainly not helped themselves during this entire ordeal. In fairness, though, what else can they do? They apologize and they’re accused of insincerity. They try to explain, they sound like a teenager caught shoplifting whose preposterous excuses worsen with every random addition. At some point, the organization will, for its own sake, say enough already and get down to the business of playing baseball. And that’s where the true cost of the scandal will present itself.

What is troublesome here is that the players who are speaking out in the loudest terms are generally not known for their bloviating media rants. Justin Turner’s comments were most notable for his criticism of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred having called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal.”

Mike Trout – who is universally liked and takes care never to offend anyone or take a controversial stance – said they were bottom-line cheating.

Nick Markakis, who basically just keeps his head down and answers reporters’ questions in a perfunctory manner, said, among other things, “every single guy over there (in Houston) needs a beating.”

The New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, neither of whom says much to the media and certainly avoid saying anything controversial, tore into the Astros. Stanton said he would hit 80 home runs if he knew what was coming and that the Astros were only sorry because they got caught. Judge stated that the title had not been earned.

Even Lebron James weighed in via Twitter:

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess. In the past, even during the sport’s most polarizing and controversial times, the players have generally stuck together in solidarity whether there was underlying tension or not. Said tension was kept in-house. The problem here is that Manfred is the combination of a bureaucratic functionary serving as commissioner and has no idea how to put down this type of insurrection. In terms of leadership, the Major League Baseball Players Association led by Tony Clark is not much better.

In short, this is already out of control. Players making physical threats against the Astros and damning the potential consequences despite MLB saying there will be suspensions for “street justice” has provided another talking point: “They don’t get suspended for cheating, but we get suspended if we drill someone as revenge for their cheating?”

Until those who believe they or the game were negatively impacted by the cheating scandal feel satisfaction, this will not stop.

Speculation has centered on exactly how many bench clearing brawls the Astros might have this year. It’s not a joke. Even with the inevitable pre-series and pregame warnings, the players from both clubs will be on edge from the start. For Astros players who may believe their teammates were in the wrong and did not take part in the sign-stealing operation, there is a fundamental need to defend their colleagues.

If, for example, Corey Kluber, Luis Severino or Hyun-Jin Ryu buzz or drill an Astros hitter, Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke or Lance McCullers Jr. will be compelled to retaliate. They’re not standing idly by taking limitless abuse. Fights are going to happen. While most baseball “brawls” are anything but, there will be extensive hard feelings up and down the roster. Comparably, in most bench clearing incidents, there are the two or three players who are truly angry, the 10 or so who just like to fight, and the rest of the players who are trying not to get hurt while being “good teammates” by milling around on the field during the dust-up. For the Astros, there will be legitimate hard feelings.

What should be watched is not the number of hit-by-pitches, glares, benches clearing and actual fights, but when the seeds that have already been planted are sprouting: well before the games start and teams are on the field with few fans in the stands, limited media coverage, no umpires and no live television.

Specifically, during batting practice when players are around the batting cage and would usually chat amiably, but will be discussing their innermost feelings about the cheating and not holding back. After the famed 1986 New York Mets-Cincinnati Reds brawl (starting at 2:56) when Ray Knight popped Eric Davis in the jaw, the teams had a massive fight with noted tough guys Knight, Kevin Mitchell, Gary Carter, Dave Parker, Pete Rose and John Denny, among others on either side.

Lest anyone believe that hard feelings were forgotten as the series went on. The next day – and multiple people have told this story including players and media members who witnessed it – Parker and Knight had a chat around the batting cage that culminated in Parker backing down when Knight invited him to step into the ring there and then. Parker was considered the most feared physical force in baseball at the time.

Other teams and players feel as if their rightful achievements were taken away from them because the Astros went beyond the acceptable gamesmanship of eyeball sign-stealing and signaling. Because baseball doled out punishments to Astros ownership, the front office and the manager and gave the players immunity so they would come clean, there is a perception that they pleaded out and were not sufficiently punished. This anger is what the Astros will face for the entire season, until other teams think justice was done, or both.