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Erik Kratz has provided much needed context, but the Astros’ road to vindication is still long

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Assessing the ex-catcher’s claims and how they fit into the big picture.

MLB: Houston Astros-Workouts Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

After news broke of the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing scheme in 2017, the sports world did not hesitate in branding the club as an outcast of despicable cheaters. Such a strong reaction was for the most part understandable. Cheating had existed in baseball for more than a century and stealing signs is perhaps as old as the game itself, but the particular utilization of high tech to relay signs to hitters in real-time with smooth efficiency led to many dubbing the scandal the most egregious in baseball since the 1919 Black Sox.

Despite reports of other teams engaging in similar activities, the Astros were swiftly made out to be the lone offenders. At the time, a rage-filled perspective was by far the most common among fans and players, but there was another one concurrently held by objective minds who were able to view the scandal from another angle: The Astros were the only team exposed.

Last Friday, retired major-league catcher Erik Kratz revealed on YES Network’s ‘Curtain Call’ podcast that the Colorado Rockies had a sign-stealing scheme implemented during the 2018 season that rivaled the Astros’. Kratz, a member of the Brewers in 2018, stated that the Rockies would bang a Theragun (handheld massage gun) on their metal bench to signal signs to their hitters.

He also added this:

If you think no one else was doing it, you are wrong. The difference is, the Astros may have taken it a little too far. Maybe a little bit too far. Maybe continued to do it. Or maybe it’s just the fact that they won the World Series and everybody’s pissed about that.”

Additionally, Kratz claims he knew of two other teams doing “very, very similar” things in 2018. One of these teams, who he left unnamed, has “been to the World Series often recently.” In the past five years, only two teams have made multiple World Series appearances: The Astros and the Dodgers.

Naturally, these revelations have been lauded by Astros fans. For the prior 18 or so months, the dominant narrative was that the Astros had an unfair advantage no other team had, in spite of rumblings that there were other clubs with similar systems in place.

It’s highly unlikely we’ll fully know how uneven the playing field was for the Astros and their opponents in 2017 — if it was at all — and though Kratz’s detailed allegations have confirmed lingering suspicions, that shouldn’t be the sole takeaway here.

Like Mike Fiers in 2019, an ex-player has gone on-record and provided specific details about a team’s illegal sign-stealing scheme. For better or worse, more truth on this subject is coming out.

The last thing MLB wants is another league-wide scandal on par with the PED bombshell that rocked the sport just over 15 years ago. Regardless of whether MLB intentionally or unintentionally made the Astros the scapegoat to quell conjecture of this problem being widespread, Kratz’s public comments could encourage other players, current and former, to blow the whistle.

Though Kratz’s accusations have undoubtedly elicited feelings of vindication for many Astros fans who objected to the validity of the popular it-was-just-them-and-no-one-else narrative, the reality is that the Astros remain the poster boy for cheating. They won a World Series while doing so. That is the apex, so they will be hated while teams like the Rockies will merely be mocked. The distinction may be important to some and not at all to others, but its very existence could progress the public’s understanding of an issue that is not and has not been limited to one team.