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Inside Baseball

Astros won't be able to escape angry opponents at every turn

It was good to talk baseball again at Blue Jays Winter Fest last weekend in Toronto and there was plenty of chatter about the promise of the upcoming season for the Blue Jays. But much of the conversation, as you might expect, turned to the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal.

It made you stop and think what spring training and this season are going to be like for everyone who comes into contact with the Astros. Talk about chaos.

Think about the questions every day in the spring. Think about the media on every road trip. The backlash from fans. And there are a lot of angry opponents waiting, too.

Royals infielder Whit Merrifield, who was nosed out of a spot at the 2018 All-Star Game by Houston star Jose Altuve, had plenty to say last week on the Kansas City-based Clubhouse Conversation podcast: "I'm going to consider myself an All-Star with all this stuff that's come out because Jose Altuve took my spot that game. So we'll put an asterisk by 2018 and on top of it, we'll go ahead and throw in a Silver Slugger for good measure."

Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman, who gave up 11 hits during a 2017 game in Houston while pitching for the Blue Jays, sounded off on Twitter: "Makes sense now. I remember wondering how these guys were laying off some of my nasty pitches. Relaying all my signs in live speed to the batter. Ruining the integrity of the game. These dudes were all about the camera and social media. Now, they’re all quiet! Lol."

Added Cleveland pitcher Mike Clevenger in a Momentum YouTube video: "I'm not going to sit here and just be quiet about someone blatantly taking millions of dollars and food off my table, let alone other people's tables. I don't think any of those bleeps should be able to look us in the eye. They should feel ashamed."

The Astros had their own winter meetup with fans and media last weekend and neither Altuve nor Alex Bregman did any sort of mea culpa about the scandal or even add any insight to it.

Said Bregman: "The commissioner and league came out with the report and the Astros did what they did. They made their decision on what to do and I have no thoughts on it.”

Said Altuve on the notion he's a cheater: "You don’t want anybody to call you like that. But I have two options: One is cry or one is to go out there and play the game to help my team. You know which one I’m going to do.”

At some point, this team is going to have to address this situation. It's not going away. Owner Jim Crane clearly understands that and told reporters the players will be talking soon.

"When we get down to spring training we’ll all get them together and they’ll come out with a strong statement as a team and I think, you know, apologize for what happened and move forward,” Crane said. "Everyone is split up. It’s a team. We’re going to sit in a room and talk about it, then we’ll come out and address the press. All of them will address the press, either as a group or individually. Quite frankly, we’ll apologize for what happened, ask for forgiveness and move forward.”

Good luck moving forward. What if Altuve has an off year in 2020? Everyone will assume his career was built on cheating. What if the Astros continue to be red hot at home? Aren't teams going to search to see if there's some sort of magic bullet still helping them?

And how many pitchers carrying anger the way Stroman and Clevenger are might just be tempted to drill or at least brush back some key Houston hitters? Buckle up, Houston. Your problem isn't going away.

Hall of Fame thoughts

• Don't care a bit that Derek Jeter wasn't an unanimous selection. It's irrelevant. It's a nonstory. Jeter got the highest vote total of any position player in history and that is the story. The online gotcha mob is ready with pitchforks to out the identity of the lone non-Jeter voter, but what exactly is the point of that?

If someone thinks Derek Jeter isn't a Hall of Famer, you and I might think he or she is crazy but that's his or her right to vote as he or she sees fit. The take-their-vote-away crowd is simply wrong. There is no "right" or "wrong" ballot. There's only a ballot you disagree with. People are entitled to their opinions.

• The Baseball Writers Association of America has routinely pushed for full transparency in Hall of Fame voting. It overwhelmingly passed a resolution requiring it in 2016 – and the Hall's Board of Directors went against the BBWAA's wish and continues to allow voters to cast ballots in secrets.

The Hall sets the rules for the election. The writers do not. But even with this point, when the Hall releases its group of ballots in the next couple of weeks, I would bet more than 300 of the 397 ballots will be publicly available. Baseball has by far the most transparent Hall of Fame voting of any major sport. And it's not close.

So when it comes to transparency, where is the outrage about the secrecy around the ballots for the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the Basketball Hall of Fame?

For all the browbeating of writers who vote, where was the outrage to go ballot by ballot to see who voted for Harold Baines last year when the Today's Game Era Committee elected him? Those ballots do not get released.

Inside Baseball: After Jeter, the latest Hall call is a hard choice

• Larry Walker deserved to be elected before his 10th and final year on the ballot but was probably a victim of the crowded ballot in the last few years. Walker's historic 40% jump in his last two years is a credit to the deeper study by voters of players near the end of their ballot life, and by the widespread push from social media and analytics for borderline players.

• Internet campaigns have been major factors in the elections of Walker, Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines. The three guys whom I didn't vote for this year who seem worthy of the most study going forward are Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones.

Walker, Big Unit soared at Pilot Field

When the Indianapolis Indians were driving the Bisons crazy in 1988 and 1989, winning the American Association East in the first two seasons of then-Pilot Field, they had a Hall of Famer on their club in each season. Randy Johnson won the division-clinching game over the Herd here in '88 while Walker batted .270 with 12 homers and 59 RBIs for Indy in 1989 before heading to Montreal.

Johnson was 8-7, 3.26 in 20 games in '88 with 111 strikeouts and 72 walks in 113 innings pitched. He made three starts for Indy the next season before getting called up to the Expos and was traded to Seattle in May.

Walker was a youth hockey teammate of former Boston Bruins star and current Bruins president Cam Neely during their teenage years in British Columbia. Walker was the team's goalie.

"It’s a long time coming. I’ve always admired his career and thought he should have got in earlier," Neely told NBC Sports Boston of Walker's Hall call. "I’m happy for him and happy for his family. It’s a big deal being a Canadian. He’s just the second Canadian in (with Ferguson Jenkins) so that’s pretty cool.

“Every other year, we’d be on the same team and I played some baseball with him. Then we went our separate ways at about 16 or 17. We always kept in touch. His older brother played goalie and played some pro hockey. They had a very sports-oriented family.”

Around the horn

• Yankees manager Aaron Boone to the YES Network on Thursday night on the Astros: "It's disappointing. Frustrating. Frankly, I spent a couple days kind of trying to get my head wrapped around the emotions I was feeling about it because there's people you care about involved. But in the end, you hope these are significant steps, and I believe that they are, that will get us to a point where we have a much cleaner, much more fair game between the lines and that's where we want things decided anyway."

• Would it really be possible for Red Sox pitchers and catchers to report for spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 11 without a manager? New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom seemed to indicate that speaking to reporters Thursday in Fenway Park, noting it would be ideal to have Alex Cora's replacement in place. But it's not guaranteed to happen.

"Depending on how things unfold, if it doesn’t happen, it will be because of our judgment (that) it makes more sense to get the best outcome," Bloom said. "But it would certainly be ideal. Nobody wants to be at this point in the year without a manager obviously.”

• After the Mickey Callaway disaster, the Mets could use some experience in the dugout. Carlos Beltran wasn't going to check that box and New Manager Part II Luis Rojas won't either, even though players raved about his work as the skipper at Double-A Binghamton and enjoyed working with him last season as the quality control coach in New York.

The Mets went for continuity, with a familiar face in charge who can keep the coaching staff that Beltran formed intact. So former Bisons pitcher Jeremy Hefner will remain pitching coach under Rojas.

• The Twins signed Josh Donaldson. The Indians are looking to cut payroll and might be trading Francisco Lindor at some point this season. The White Sox and Tigers are terrible and only the growth of White Sox prospect Luis Robert might save us from a terribly boring summer in the AL Central. As the economy of the city changed, the Indians have never had the crowds in Progressive Field over the last 15 years to sustain their team like they did in the first eight years after the park's 1994 opening.

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