MESA, Ariz. — Retribution in the wake of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal is expected to be handed out in the form of beanballs and brushbacks.
But Astros batters might not be the only ones with a target on their backs this season.
Outfielder Mark Canha is one of several A’s players who say they are concerned Oakland players will be targets of Astros pitchers looking to settle the score with A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, who publicly outed Houston’s cheating scheme.
The shots have been coming at Fiers ever since he blew the whistle on his former team over the winter. Death threats. Rat emojis. Thursday, it was former Red Sox star David Ortiz calling the A’s pitcher a “snitch.”
But will his teammates be considered accomplices after the fact?
Players from around the league, including the A’s, say they have known or at least suspected the Astros were cheating for several years. Canha said he did not come forward for concern that because he is a hitter, he would be a target for old-school baseball justice.
“I don’t want to prod that bull,” said Canha, who was hit by a league-high 18 pitches last season. “Those people did what they did and got away with it and there’s a certain amount of power involved in that that I don’t want to mess with.”
Canha said that doesn’t mean Fiers’ teammates don’t support his actions even if there may be some payback coming their way.
“That’s part of the reason that I didn’t want go out of my way to say anything about the (sign-stealing) situation, is that I don’t want to have to worry about (retaliation),” Canha said. “Don’t get me wrong, I think what Mike did was brave, heroic even. He definitely helped make the game a better game. I just wouldn’t, personally, want to say anything about that team.
“I get hit enough, I don’t need to get hit anymore.”
Other position players, like Matt Chapman, aren’t too concerned about retaliation pitches coming their way. The Texas Rangers exacted some revenge in the form of HBPs last year that resulted in a scuffle. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for any team. But he can already feel the contempt.
“This won’t be much different from what we’ve experienced,” Chapman said of the fear of getting hit. “Obviously there’s going to be some bad blood and bad feelings from the Houston fans.”
If there is any additional bad blood between the AL West rivals, it could surface quickly. The Astros play at the Coliseum on the opening weekend of the season and the first series in Houston is April 24-26. The teams play 10 games at Houston’s Minute Maid Park before the end of July.
The central player in this drama will undoubtedly continue to be Fiers.
He has felt both the widespread praise for his heroism and wrath from Houston Astros fans that feel attacked. And opinions are still strong on both sides of the issue, as Ortiz’s comments in Florida underscored.
“I’m mad at (Fiers),” Ortiz said during a news conference at Red Sox camp. “After you make your money and you get your ring, you decide to talk about it? Why didn’t you talk about it during the season when it was going on? Why didn’t you say ‘I don’t want no part of this.’ Now, you look like a snitch.”
Fiers’ crime is he tried to help clean up the game. But will it have his back? MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred pledged to protect Fiers at all costs. Fiers said he’s in no need of protection.
“There’s nothing I can do, there’s nothing anybody can do,” Fiers said. “It something happens, it happens. It’s not like you can protect me.”
Fiers has been at the center of controversy before. Late during the 2014 season he hit then-Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton in the face with a pitch, shattering the slugger’s jaw. Fiers received death threats from fans following the incident.
“I’ve faced worse,” Fiers said.
Fiers stands by his decision to out the Astros, saying the fallout is a small price to pay for the young pitchers with fragile opportunity he witnessed getting lit up and sent packing.
“It’s tough to see that,” Fiers said. “Especially when it’s your teammate. When you see guys where I’m from, all they have is baseball. And for it to be taken away from them by cheating, it’s tough.”
Much has been said about keeping the Houston Astros safe in hostile territory outside of Minute Maid Park.
The team’s new manager, Dusty Baker, asked for amnesty in exchange for the organization’s public apology.
The players may keep the peace, but what about the fans?
Fans are passionate, sometimes to a fault. Teams take careful measures to protect their players and staff. Team hotels are secured from the front doors to the elevators, and the travel to Houston’s downtown ballpark is typically brief.
These are all factors A’s closer Liam Hendriks plays over in his mind to feel a little safer.
“I don’t think people are stupid enough to try anything,” Hendriks said. “But you never know with people. It’s unfortunate to say that’s just the way the world works, there’s easy access to a lot of things that can cause harm.”
Fiers has no idea how he will be received when he crosses paths with his former Astros teammates. And he cares little.
“I don’t talk to those guys,” Fiers said. “When you make decisions in life, people are either going to take it as a positive or negative and react to it. That’s just how life is, sometimes your actions don’t always please everyone, and they aren’t always going to please everyone.”
Fiers still can feel the target on his back a bit.
“That’s part of baseball, people get hit, people try to take you out at some point,” he said. “It’s all good. It’s baseball.”
©2020 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)