Justin Morneau was candid Friday about how he would have handled being on a team electronically stealing signs from opponents, as the Houston Astros were found to have done on the way to winning the 2017 World Series.
“I like to think I’d have done the right thing in that situation,” the former Twins slugger and first baseman said. “But I was never presented with it, so you don’t know how you’d react.”
The 2006 American League MVP with the Twins and 2014 National League batting champion with the Colorado Rockies, Morneau has thought about baseball’s latest scandal since The Athletic first reported the Astros’ sign-stealing system in November.
“I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes, a lot of times,” he said. “I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of the manager, and in the position of the players. Who could have stopped it, and who should have stopped it?”
Team dynamics are complicated, Morneau noted, especially for up-and-coming players star struck by teammates they’ve long admired. And if management is on board, directly or tacitly, “sometimes you can lose your best judgment.”
Introduced Friday as the next member of the Twins Hall of Fame, Morneau is however certain of one thing. Using technology to tip batters in real time, as the Astros were found to have done, “is wrong and not part of the game, and I think it needs to go away and not come back.”
After a two-month investigation, MLB suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for the 2020 season — they were quickly fired — and took away the team’s first- and second-round picks for the next two amateur drafts.
“It’s disappointing to see because (Houston) was, really, my favorite team to watch,” Morneau said. “Now you wonder how long was it going back and how much it was real?”
Baseball currently is investigating the Boston Red Sox, winner of the 2018 World Series, for a similar scheme and some in baseball suspect that punishment could be more severe because MLB specifically warned the Red Sox when they were found to have used smart watches to steal signs from the Yankees in 2017.
Baseball otherwise officially informed teams they are not to use electronic surveillance to cheat in 2008 and 2018, just in case it didn’t go without saying.
“I think you have to suspend the whole coaching staff,” Morneau said. “The players have to be held accountable.”
So far, no players have been held accountable, including Twins utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who hit .303 with 23 home runs and 90 RBIs in 134 games for the 2017 Astros. He is conspicuously absent from TwinsFest this weekend at Target Field, so he didn’t have to answer awkward questions like former teammates Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman did this week.
Uncomfortable questions might be the only repercussion for players who, according to the Wall Street Journal, were given dispensation in exchange for cooperating with MLB’s investigation. That doesn’t sit well with Royals infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield, who this week suggested that Altuve stole an all-star spot and Silver Slugger Award last season.
Morneau, 38, doesn’t like it, either. He understands baseball’s reluctance to get into a war of appeals with the players union but noted that baseball didn’t curtail, if not entirely eliminate, steroid use until it started handing out substantial, unpaid suspensions.
Every player will tell you that players have tried to relay pitches to batters from second base since pitchers and catchers started using signs. The difference now is that teams have the technology to do it for every pitch — even if the Astros used the decidedly primitive method of banging a dugout garbage can to complete the circuit.
“Baseball’s had issues in the past and managed to find a way to rectify it and gain the trust back,” Morneau said. “But this is a tough one because any time anyone has some success — anyone hits a nasty slider, hits a change-up — did he know it was coming? Was he cheating?”
That’s a question baseball never wants to hear again.