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MLB commissioner says punishments could be severe in sign-stealing scandal

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said he believes the sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed the sport involves only the Houston Astros and that he can mete out discipline beyond the standard fine and draft pick penalties if necessary.

Speaking as the owners meetings began Tuesday, Manfred called the allegations of technology-driven sign-stealing by the Astros “the most serious matter.” He said “it relates to the integrity of the sport” and promised “a really, really thorough investigation.”

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros,” Manfred said after a tour of Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers‘ new stadium set to open in 2020. “I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

Cheating accusations are commonly levied by teams against other teams in discussions with officials in the commissioner’s office, although none had taken hold until former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers alleged the 2017 World Series champions used a camera feed near the home dugout to steal catchers’ signs and relayed them to hitters by banging on a trash can.

Fiers’ allegations prompted the league to open an investigation, which thus far has focused on the 2017 Astros but has included questions about more recent Astros teams, sources told ESPN.

The maximum penalties Manfred has handed out include a $2 million fine and docking of two first-round draft picks after a St. Louis Cardinals employee illicitly accessed the Astros’ proprietary database and a ban on international signings after an investigation into the Atlanta Braves‘ practices in Latin America.

MLB instituted new rules before the 2019 season in hopes of limiting the use of stealing signs via technology, and the scope of Manfred’s discipline could depend on the timing of any alleged wrongdoing.

“I’m not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is,” Manfred said. “That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning I issued to the clubs, I stand by. It certainly could be all of those [past disciplinary actions], but my authority under the major league constitution would be broader than those things as well.”

Manfred said he does not have a timeline for the investigation, but “I certainly would hope that we would be done before we start playing baseball again.”

Discussion of the Astros, sources told ESPN, is expected to be a common topic at the owners meetings, which run through Thursday.

The fear among a number of top executives, sources said, is that the practice of technology-driven sign-stealing has become commonplace in the game and that the Astros’ case will serve as a litmus test for Manfred’s ability to clamp down.

“Any allegations that relate to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Manfred said. “It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active — what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. But beyond that, I can’t tell you how close we are to done.”

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Cincinnati Reds’ Amir Garrett opens up to teammates about racial injustice

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CINCINNATI — With so few Black players in the major leagues, Cincinnati Reds reliever Amir Garrett was afraid to talk openly about racial discrimination. He kept his thoughts — and his stories — to himself.

He wouldn’t speak of the time in high school in California when he and another Black classmate were on their way to basketball practice, playing their music in the car. Police pulled them over, shoved them against the car, frisked them aggressively, emptied the car while claiming to look for drugs, then them go.

They received no ticket, Garrett said, but a threat.

“They say, ‘OK, you can go, but next time don’t play your music so loud around here because next time we’re not going to be so nice,'” Garrett said Monday.

Silent no more, the 28-year-old pitcher is trying to bring awareness, starting within his own team.

When George Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes, Garrett texted the video to first baseman Joey Votto, the Reds’ most prominent player. Votto watched it the next day and was brought to tears.

Votto responded to Garrett and started a conversation. Votto then began reaching out to others to hear their experiences and eventually wrote a column in The Cincinnati Enquirer about his changing views.

“I think I’ve changed as a man. I feel my perspective has changed,” Votto said Friday on a video conference call. “I didn’t want to [speak up], but I couldn’t sleep. There was a long stretch where I couldn’t sleep. When it affects me that deeply, I felt strongly about saying something and learning. Every day I’m trying to learn.

“It’s wild. We have the very same issue back home in Canada. The very same issue.”

Garrett had been reluctant to speak out for a different reason. He saw what happened when Colin Kaepernick tried to focus attention on racial injustice — the quarterback hasn’t played again in the NFL.

“I was scared to talk about these injustice issues we were having because in baseball, there’s not a lot of African Americans that play the game and I was nowhere near Kaepernick [in prominence],” Garrett said. “I felt I could be pushed out of the game. That was really scary for me.

“But now I felt in my heart I was ready to handle the consequences of whatever may have come from this.”

The Reds organized a video session Saturday with Tru Pettigrew, an inclusion and diversity advocate. Roughly 130 players and organization members participated in the two-hour session, with honest conversation encouraged.

Garrett was among those who shared experiences.

“It really took a lot for me to get vulnerable with my teammates like that,” Garrett said. “I never want somebody to feel sorry for me, or I never want to feel a victim. It took a lot for me to open up to those guys.

“I feel we’re so much closer than we were just two days ago. I felt people understood what I was sharing with them and even though they may never fully understand what it’s like to be Black in America, I felt I got my point across and they felt everything I was saying.”

Manager David Bell encouraged the discussion. In the past few months he’d been talking to friends, players, former teammates and other colleagues about their experiences with race.

“I have to say for the first time I truly asked questions and understood experiences that people I’ve been close to in my life, I never took the time to truly understand or truly listen,” Bell said. “It’s been a process. I think it’s just scratching the surface. It’s a step but I certainly have a long way to go.”

And Garrett wants to be part of the process for as many people as possible.

“Though my voice might not be as big as some other players’ that we have, it’s a start to look past baseball, to look at the bigger picture of the world problems we have,” he said. “My following might not be as big as others, but all I’m doing is trying to change one person at a time.”

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Donald Trump defends Redskins, Indians team names

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President Donald Trump criticized the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians on Twitter for considering changes to their respective team names, accusing the teams of “trying to be politically correct.”

Trump tweeted Monday that the NFL’s Redskins and MLB’s Indians are “fabled sports franchises.” He also taunted Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has claimed Native American ancestry and has been a frequent target of barbs from Trump.

It was the second racially charged, sports-related tweet of the day from Trump, who earlier Monday called out NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag and accused Bubba Wallace, the sport’s only Black driver, of perpetrating a “HOAX” involving a noose in his garage last month at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Redskins appear likely to change their name amid a nationwide movement to erase racially insensitive symbols, given the national focus on human rights and social justice after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Washington coach Ron Rivera told The Washington Post on Saturday that he has been working with team owner Daniel Snyder on a new team nickname in recent weeks. The Redskins announced Friday that they will “undergo a thorough review” of the nickname after several sponsors, including FedEx, which owns the naming rights to the team’s stadium, urged the franchise to change a nickname that has been deemed offensive for decades.

The Indians also released a statement Friday, saying the organization is “committed to engaging our community and appropriate stakeholders to determine the best path forward with regard to our team name.”

Trump has previously defended the Redskins’ name on Twitter. In October 2013, he tweeted that presidents “should not be telling the Washington Redskins to change their name” and accused then-President Barack Obama of “harassing the privately owned” franchise.



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Cubs’ Kris Bryant says coronavirus testing delays a safety issue

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Chicago Cubs star Kris Bryant has issues with MLB’s coronavirus testing protocols, saying his team gets tested too infrequently.

“I don’t want to be insensitive to people who haven’t been able to get tests but as the country gets access to more of those, it’s appropriate to talk about our situation here,” Bryant said on Monday afternoon from Wrigley Field. “What we agreed to was testing every other day and we’ve had guys who showed up on Sunday (June 28) and hadn’t got tested again (until) seven days later. And you don’t get the results until two days later. That’s nine days without knowing.

“If we want this to succeed, we have to figure this out. I wanted to play this year because I thought it would be safe. Honestly, I don’t really feel that.”

Bryant’s fears echo those of many around the league as teams have canceled or delay workouts while the league sorts out testing issues. Cubs’ manager David Ross took matters into his own hands.

“I voiced my opinion to MLB and they assured me they are working as diligently as they can,” Ross stated. “They assured me they are cleaning things up.

“When my players are asking to be tested more, a red flag goes off in my head.”

Bryant had a baby during the shutdown and is worried about bringing home the virus but decided against opting out, thinking the protocols would keep him safe — if they’re being followed. He stressed that tougher days are ahead once teams start to travel.

“If we can’t really nail the easy part — which is right now — just our players, we have a big problem,” he said. “I go home every day and I just think, what if I were to get it and bring it home. It would be awful. There’s so much that could go wrong.”

The Cubs third baseman is set to be a free agent after the 2021 season but perhaps has a different mindset between having a newborn and dealing with the pandemic. He was asked if signing a long term deal was more in the cards now than previously.

“I would say ‘yeah,'” Bryant said. “You look at things differently. I feel like I’m a lot more calm. Things that really matter to me before, don’t matter to me as much….If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Before anything else can happen, the league has to get through a unique season. There are many doubters.

“It’s not guaranteed that we’re going to play and finish the season,” Bryant stated. “Everyone involved kind of knows that. We have to do more and do what we agreed to.”

Ross added: “The protocols they have in place are for a reason. They need to get these tests done.”

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