Day: March 10, 2020

Field of cheats

If the game of baseball matters—and it has mattered deeply for more than 150 years to hundreds of millions of parents and children in communities small and great across the Americas and beyond—then the spectre of organized, methodical, scientific, continuous, years-long, unpunished cheating that hangs over the ballpark as the 2020 season begins is as dark and rueful as a rainout on Mother’s Day.

At its nucleus, the current crisis involves the Houston Astros championship club of 2017, though there may have been several other teams invested in their own schemes that have not yet been exposed. But this affair is about much more than millionaire athletes using a high-res video feed to steal each other’s strategic signals. It goes to the value and meaning of sport itself, asking plangent questions about privilege and punishment, trust and tradition, the value of integrity itself, and the treacherous triangle of responsibility, remorse, and revenge that all of us dance along in our off-the-field lives.

“The only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball,” the lovely Annie Savoy proselytizes in Bull Durham. But baseball’s Notre Dame is on fire, and the catechism of cheating that the Astros blessed—and Major League Baseball’s sickeningly weak response to the revelations—has the weight to bring the ancient buttresses down.

“The Astros, as diverse and hard-working as Houston, reflect our nation’s future,” crowed the Houston Chronicle when the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series, weeks after their city had been devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The paper noted the champions’ provenance from Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and across the United States and gushed, “The concoction is truly the modern version of America’s Team.”

Now they are America’s disgrace. If the game of baseball matters to you, they are your disgrace, too.

Some of the Astros’ players may not have taken part in the piracy. Others moved on and kept their counsel. In the long glare of history, none of that matters now. As has been said in another context, the Houston Astros are impeached forever.

The Houston scandal began with an insinuation that was whispered for years around the major leagues, followed by a belated confession by an ex-Astro that blew the cover off the crime—pitcher Mike Fiers’s admission to journalists last fall that, in 2017, 2018 and perhaps during other seasons as well, many or most of the Houston team’s most respected, most experienced and wealthiest players were clandestinely using a secure video link to intercept the coded hand-jive that opposing catchers waggle to signal to their pitchers what sort of ball to heave next.

Fast or slow, straight or curving, tight or wide, a rise, a dip—for a batter at the professional level, advance warning is like a bet on a one-horse race. Erase the existential contest of wits and skill between the hitter and the pitcher, and it’s not baseball, it’s Whac-A-Mole—a spree for the slugger with the stick, and a bludgeon to the pride and career of the bewildered man on the mound.

That the Astros profited competitively and financially from their cheating is not in dispute—they kept this up for years. When their manager took a war club to the video apparatus—twice—they set up a new monitor each time. When a coach questioned the whistling and garbage-pail banging that the team’s spies used to alert the batter, they ignored him like the old fool he was.

There even is rampant suspicion that when one star player, having hit a game-winning home run against the fastest-throwing pitcher in the game’s history, clutched at his uniform shirt as he rounded third base, he was alerting his compadres not to tear off the garment in celebration lest it expose an electronic buzzer taped to the hero’s body. (José Altuve’s original alibi was that he was “shy” and “my wife doesn’t like it.” Later, it was that he didn’t want anyone to see a “really ugly” new tattoo. A clang, a holler, a jolt—the method of delivery matters far less than the subversion itself. Altuve also has claimed that he did not join the sign-stealing cabal.)

Here’s the walk-off blast: absolutely nothing has been done so far to punish the players involved—not a fine, not a suspension, not a firing, not a demotion, not a reprimand, not a scarlet ‘C’ to go with their tangy orange stars. The Astros’ field manager and front-office manager were sent away in token shame but can return to the game next season. The team was fined US$5 million; a laughable sum. The club’s owner hee-hawed that “this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

Fifty-seven seconds later, this same gallant reversed himself and said, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.”

Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Mike Bolsinger, left, walks off the mound as Houston Astros’ Marwin Gonzalez rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith/CP)

The flaccid commissioner of Major League Baseball, a corporate lawyer beholden only to the billionaires’ cartel that owns the National Pastime, having already trussed up the canard that firing or suspending the players would violate the union’s collective-bargaining agreement, went so far as to announce that the Commissioner’s Trophy itself—the prize for which young men dream and scuttle across naked sandlots and posh academies from Havana to the Houston suburbs—is “just a piece of metal.”

This man—Rob Manfred Jr.—is the son of a schoolteacher and a father of four. Well, on his watch, the coolest kids in math class found the final exam in the teacher’s desk. Sharing the answer key, they all scored A’s. So the schoolmaster fired the prof and the principal and drove the cheaters in a limo to the prom.

(Major League Baseball’s own television network did not broadcast the commissioners’ derisible comments in real time in mid-February—it showed a rerun of Bull Durham instead. As Annie Savoy once said, “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”)

The courts have not yet had their hour. Mike Bolsinger is a former journeyman pitcher who got called up to the Toronto Blue Jays, only to see his big-league career end in a gruesome one-inning battering by the free-swinging, pennant-bound cheaters. Now he is suing the Astros and Major League Baseball for millions, accusing the team of “unfair business practices, negligence and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations.” (Bolsinger’s attorney represented Colin Kaepernick, the anthem-kneeler, in his suit against the NFL.)

“There’s a message to be sent to youth out there,” Bolsinger, who has a two-year-old son, told USA Today. “You don’t have to cheat to get to where you want to go.” Of his 2017 beatdown, leading to a 16-7 Houston win, he added: “It’s like they knew what was coming.’ That was the thought in my head. I felt like I didn’t have a chance.”

Rival players have been viciously condemnatory of the Astros in interviews and on Twitter, breaking a canon of conformity and cover-up that has been in place since the days of the handlebar moustache. “Worse than steroids,” is their consensus, drawing an important distinction between a man jabbing a syringe into his gluteus in private, and an entire team poisoning any chance at fair play on the public field.

“Everybody in the world is laughing,” said Kenley Jansen, a Dodgers pitcher. “What are you gonna teach kids out there? You’re not gonna teach anything.”

“It’s tough. They cheated,” said stellar outfielder Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels, who never has played in a World Series. “I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing. It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected, a lot of people lost jobs. It was tough.”

“I don’t know if the commissioner has ever won anything in his life,” said Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ third baseman, in perhaps the most hurtful jibe of all.

Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros looks on prior to a team workout at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 13, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

As 2020 begins, league executives have warned against pitchers taking retribution into their own hands by throwing 100-mile-an-hour bullets at the Houstonians’ heads. No one knows all the truths yet, but as their shortstop Carlos Correa was saying on the first day of Spring Training, “It’s not going to be a fun season on the road.” In their consciences, Houston’s own fans will have to decide whether it should be a lark at home as well.

In this spirit, the Astros convened at West Palm Beach, Fla. on a February weekday to commence their exertions for 2020 with a new manager, most of the same, guilty players, a swarm of journalists from inside and outside the sport, and, at long last, nowhere to hide.

This was the now-infamous morning when Jim Crane, the supply-chain-logistics magnate and former small-college pitcher who owns the Astros, had the astigmatism to call them—after everything they did—“a great group of guys” and to insist that “the players should not be punished for their actions.”

“We’re not going to do anything to the players,” Jim Crane said, more than once.

Inside the clubhouse, a handful of regulars from the 2017 team—all of whom have earned tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars from the diamond game—costumed themselves in contrition to go with their taut skin and soft, brown eyes.

“When we first started, we thought we were taking advantage of technology, but it was wrong,” Correa explained. “You don’t want to be remembered as that kind of player. I don’t want my kids, my brother, my family members to think of me as a cheater.

“I get it,” said Correa, getting it three years too late. “I love this game too much to be a cheater. It’s just terrible, man. We feel really bad for ruining careers.”

“We regret everything,” said George Springer, the centre fielder. “The amount of remorse is very high. I wish I had done more.”

“Mike Bolsinger wants you to give your 2017 World Series bonus to charity,” a Maclean’s reporter informed Justin Verlander, the veteran pitcher who has signed a two-year contract with the Astros valued at $66 million. (The championship dividend was a measly $438,901.57.)

“I already gave my 2017 World Series bonus to charity,” he snapped back.

At their training base in Dunedin, Fla., the Toronto Blue Jays reacted with the same level of passion.

“I don’t know what they’re really thinking,” the 21-year old shortstop Bo Bichette told Maclean’s. “I don’t know what their true intentions behind the apologies are. From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem to be too apologetic.”

Bichette was not yet in the American League in 2017. No one has suggested the Jays of that epoch essayed a similar sign-stealing scheme. (The team was so bad that year that they probably would have swung at the trash can and missed.) But the infielder swore that he never will take part in such dastardly deeds, vowing he’d make “a pretty big ruckus” if he learned that sort of thing was happening.

“If I knew what’s coming, I could hit five hundred,” said 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr., though it was difficult to discern whether this idea struck him as nefarious or delicious. Bichette, Guerrero, and their baby Blue Jay nestmates often are labelled the future of the game. Of course, they said the same thing about José Altuve and Carlos Correa and George Springer.

Nothing about this scandal is truly new, of course—baseball men have been swiping signals with telescopes since Galileo was a rookie. The Philadelphia Phillies ran a wire from the outfield stands to the third-base coach’s box—in 1900!—and finished third anyway. Spies in the scoreboard, conspirators on the roof, men waving handkerchiefs and spinning weathervanes—all of this always has been well known, nostalgic, laughable. Until now.

Exactly 100 years ago, eight members of the Chicago White Sox were accused—and acquitted in a court of law—of conspiring with gamblers to lose the World Series on purpose. The Commissioner of Baseball banned them from the game for life anyway.

Three years ago, an unknown number of members of the Houston Astros spent hundreds of hours trying surreptitiously to gain an unfair advantage in dozens of league games before millions of paying spectators. The Commissioner of Baseball looked the other way.

So now it was up to the perpetrators themselves to police their own immorality, because if the game of baseball matters, it forces everyone who cares to take a position, regardless of city, country, tribe, regime, or class.

Manager Dusty Baker answers questions from the media during a team workout at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 13, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

“Tremendous remorse, sorrow, embarrassment,” the soft, old man was saying now.

The Astros’ old new manager was standing all alone in the middle of the dressing room, taking it all in. At 70, Dusty Baker, who broke into the big leagues barely 20 years after Jackie Robinson was chosen to break the colour bar, has seen much between the foul lines, and outside them. His function in Houston is to deflect the coming hurricane with loquacity, wisdom and calm.

“It’s like the students cheated and the teacher got fired instead,” an old baseball scribe suggested, shaking hands with the sage.

“Probably,” Dusty Baker replied. “I have a kid in college.”

The boy is at the University of California. His personal hitting coach, Baker was saying, is the one and only Barry Bonds, the home run and anabolic-steroid champion whose liniment iniquities seem quaint compared to an entire team of athletes betraying their game, night after night, for two long years. History will judge all this more coolly, should baseball endure and anybody care.

“Did you ever cheat on a test?” Dusty Baker was asking the reporter, down in West Palm.

“Never,” he was told. “What about you? Did you ever cheat on your income tax?”

“Well, they accused me of cheating!” Baker laughed.

“Didn’t you try to steal signs when you were playing?” the old manager was pressed. “Didn’t you want to know what was coming?”

“No,” insisted Dusty Baker, in the eye of an awful storm. “I didn’t want to know. I thought I could hit.”

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By The Wall of Law March 10, 2020 Off

Man accused of killing Tess Richey ‘can’t keep his story straight,’ Crown says

The Crown says the man accused of sexually assaulting and killing Tess Richey “can’t keep his story straight” as he tries to explain his version of events on the night the 22-year-old was last seen alive.

Kalen Schlatter, who has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, returned to the witness stand on Tuesday morning after telling the court Monday that Richey was alive when he left her alone in the outdoor stairwell of a building under renovation near Church and Dundonald streets in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2017.

During her cross-examination of Schlatter on Tuesday, Crown prosecutor Beverley Richards called into question Schlatter’s story about the night he last saw Richey alive, asking why she would “lead him” up a driveway to go fool around moments after she called an Uber to go home.

kalen schlatter, tess richey,

“I didn’t see her order an Uber,” Schlatter said in response to the question.

Richards also asked Schlatter why Richey would stay back in the stairwell by herself when he left that evening.

“You just left her in the dark, didn’t you,” Richards said.

“I’m not her boyfriend,” Schlatter responded. “If she wants to be left alone, she wants me to leave, I’m going to leave.”

kalen schlatter

When Schlatter changes his story about exactly where Richey was sitting when he left, Richards accuses Schlatter of lying.

“You can’t keep your story straight Mr. Schlatter because that is not where she was when you left,” she said, adding that she believes Richey was lying at the bottom of the stairwell dead.

“You can’t get your story straight Mr. Schlatter because she wasn’t alive when you left her.”

In response, Schlatter declared, “I did not kill Tess Richey.”

Both Schlatter and Richey had been at Crews and Tangos, a popular bar in the city’s gay village, on the night the 22-year-old disappeared but the accused testified that he didn’t meet Richey until around 2 a.m. after the bar had let out.

He said he grabbed hot dogs with Richey and her friend Ryley Simard and the three hung around the neighbourhood for a little while.

When he and Richey were alone after Simard had left, Schlatter told the court it was Richey who asked to kiss him. He said she was the one who led him down a laneway toward a home under renovation near Church and Dundonald streets to fool around.

Schlatter testified that he and Richey “made out” and “felt each other up” at the bottom of the home’s outdoor stairwell.

He told the court that Richey said she could not have sex because she was on her period and Schlatter said he was embarrassed when he ejaculated in his pants.

Schlatter told the jury that before he left, he invited Richey back to his parent’s place but she declined the offer.

He also said he offered to stay longer to keep her company but she told him he could leave.

He said he told her to “have a good evening” before walking up to Bloor Street to catch a cab.

Video surveillance footage previously presented in court showed Richey and Schlatter walking hand-in-hand down the laneway toward the stairwell at around 4:14 a.m.

Approximately 45 minutes later, Schlatter is spotted on camera walking back down the laneway alone.

Richey’s lifeless body was discovered in that stairwell days later by her mother and a family friend who were desperately searching the neighbourhood to find her.

On Monday, when he was asked by his lawyer if he sexually assaulted or murdered Richey, Schlatter replied, “Absolutely not.”

The Crown alleges that Schlatter strangled Richey to death after she rejected his sexual advances.

The court previously heard that Schlatter’s semen was found on Richey’s pants and his saliva was found on her bra.

A former cellmate of the accused also previously testified that Schlatter confessed to choking Richey to death with a scarf and ejaculating on her.

The cellmate, who cannot be identified under a court-ordered publication ban, also said Schlatter admitted to stealing $60 and a “chain necklace” from Richey’s purse after killing her.

He said Schlatter used the money he took to pay for a cab ride that night.

Schlatter denied making the confession and told the court that he felt “terrible” about leaving Richey alone that night.

“I should have stayed with her,” Schlatter told the jury on Monday.

Here are updates from inside the courtroom. 

 

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By The Wall of Law March 10, 2020 Off

RBC employees in self-quarantine at home after coworker tests positive for COVID-19

Dozens of workers at Royal Bank of Canada’s Mississauga Meadowvale campus are now in self-isolation at home after an employee there tested positive for COVID-19.

RBC spokesperson Gillian McArdle told BNN Bloomberg that an employee at the Meadowvale complex at 6880 Financial Drive in Mississauga has been at home in self-isolation since late last week with a suspected case of the novel coronavirus.

The Public Health Ontario lab in Toronto since confirmed her diagnosis and McArdle said the whole floor she worked on was sent home.

“As a precautionary measure, we immediately advised employees who work on the same floor to self-quarantine until further notice, and we immediately undertook a disinfecting of the impacted floor and in all common areas, including elevators, cafeteria and washrooms,” she said.

The COVID-19 patient remains at home in self-isolation and is in good condition.

There are four cases of the illness in Peel region, and only two are in individuals of traditional working age.

One was in a man in his 50s who recently returned from Germany, while another was in a woman in her 30s believed to be in close contact with a previous confirmed case.

There are 35 cases of COVID-19 in Ontario and 77 throughout Canada as of Tuesday morning, and the first four confirmed patients in Ontario have made full recoveries.

McArdle said the company is in regular contact with those in self-isolation.

“We continue to work with Public Health in determining advice and next steps for our employees on the impacted floor.”

“We are in regular contact with our employees who work on this floor and are committed to addressing their questions and concerns.”

Concerns about people infected with coronavirus have prompted temporary shutdowns of various buildings for investigation and disinfection, including a Scarborough condo tower, a North York technical college campus, a midtown Toronto English as Second Language school and mostly recently, a Rosedale-area elementary school.

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By The Wall of Law March 10, 2020 Off

Prosecutors cross-examine Kalen Schlatter at his murder trial

The man accused of sexually assaulting and strangling Tess Richey to death hours after meeting her in the city’s Church-Wellesley Village neighbourhood has returned to the stand this morning.

Here are live updates from inside the courtroom. Earlier story continues below.

 

Kalen Schlatter, 23, testified in his own defence on Monday, telling the jury that Richey was alive when he last saw her in the early morning hours of Nov. 25, 2017.

Kalen Schlatter

Both Schlatter and Richey had been at Crews and Tangos, a popular bar in the city’s gay village, on the night the 22-year-old disappeared but the accused testified that he didn’t meet Richey until around 2 a.m. after the bar had let out.

He said he grabbed hot dogs with Richey and her friend Ryley Simard and the three hung around the neighbourhood for a little while.

When he and Richey were alone after Simard had left, Schlatter told the court it was Richey who asked to kiss him. He said she was the one who led him down a laneway toward a home under renovation near Church and Dundonald streets to fool around.

Schlatter testified that he and Richey “made out” and “felt each other up” at the bottom of the home’s outdoor stairwell.

He told the court that Richey said she could not have sex because she was on her period and Schlatter said he was embarrassed when he ejaculated in his pants.

Schlatter told the jury that before he left, he invited Richey back to his parent’s place but she declined the offer.

He also said he offered to stay longer to keep her company but she told him he could leave.

He said he told her to “have a good evening” before walking up to Bloor Street to catch a cab.

Video surveillance footage previously presented in court showed Richey and Schlatter walking hand-in-hand down the laneway toward the stairwell at around 4:14 a.m.

Approximately 45 minutes later, Schlatter is spotted on camera walking back down the laneway alone.

Richey’s lifeless body was discovered in that stairwell days later by her mother and a family friend who were desperately searching the neighbourhood to find her.

tess richey

On Monday, when he was asked by his lawyer if he sexually assaulted or murdered Richey, Schlatter replied, “Absolutely not.”

The Crown alleges that Schlatter strangled Richey to death after she rejected his sexual advances.

The court previously heard that Schlatter’s semen was found on Richey’s pants and his saliva was found on her bra.

A former cellmate of the accused also previously testified that Schlatter confessed to choking Richey to death with a scarf and ejaculating on her.

The cellmate, who cannot be identified under a court-ordered publication ban, also said Schlatter admitted to stealing $60 and a “chain necklace” from Richey’s purse after killing her.

He said Schlatter used the money he took to pay for a cab ride that night.

Schlatter denied making the confession and told the court that he felt “terrible” about leaving Richey alone that night.

“I should have stayed with her,” Schlatter told the jury on Monday.

The Crown is expected to begin cross-examination of the accused at 10 a.m.

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By The Wall of Law March 10, 2020 Off

Man cited for careless driving in crash that killed 4

ORLANDO, Fla. — A man has been cited for careless driving in a central Florida crash that killed two adults and two children visiting from Massachusetts, authorities said Monday.

Lucas Dos Reis Laurindo, 26, was issued a ticket last week, according to a Florida Highway Patrol news release. Federal officials previously took him into custody for a visa violation.

The crash happened Feb. 18 in Kissimmee, which is near Orlando. Troopers said the family had been travelling in a van when it was struck from behind and overturned.

Scarlett Smith, 5, Julie Smith, 41, and Josephine Fay, 76, died at the scene, according to an accident report. Jackson Smith, 11, died the next day at a central Florida hospital. The Smith family is from Whitman, Massachusetts, and the Fays are from South Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Two other children, ages 10 and 5, were not injured in the crash, but the report said they were taken to the hospital for monitoring. The van’s driver and another adult passenger were taken to an Orlando hospital in stable condition.

The family’s van was travelling in traffic on State Road 429 when it was rear-ended by a Dos Reis Laurindo’s pickup truck, officials said. The impact caused the van to turn over. Two other cars were involved, but no one else was injured.

Dos Reis Laurindo remains at the jail in Glades County, near Lake Okeechobee.

The Associated Press

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