In what was his first spring training press conference as the reigning World Series-winning general manager, Mike Rizzo was faced with questions Friday about the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scheme they employed during the 2017-18 seasons.
"Somebody's gotta say the words over there, cheated," Rizzo said. "That's important to me. For the sport to move on, which is what I'm most concerned about, we have ton make sure that all the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed on this investigation before we end it."
Astros owner Jim Crane hosted a press conference on the other side of the two teams' shared spring training facility in West Palm Beach on Thursday and was asked if their use of technology to steal opposing pitchers' signs in real time could be considered cheating.
"We broke the rules," Crane replied. "You can phrase that any way you want."
The word "cheat" was never spoken by Crane throughout the lengthy press conference where he also said that the sign-stealing scheme they orchestrated during their 2017 World Series run "didn't impact the game."
"We keep skirting around the word and they cheated," Rizzo said. "They were found guilty of it and I haven't heard it yet."
After The Athletic broke the story in November, MLB launched an investigation that resulted in a $5 million fine, significant losses of draft capital and one-year suspensions for GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Crane subsequently fired both Hinch and Luhnow later that day.
"It's contingent on leadership to guide franchises," Rizzo said. "I know for a fact that could not and would not happen with the Washington Nationals because I would not allow it happen with the Washington Nationals. So we certainly take pride in that, in the way we conduct our business and our process and like I said, we try to do things the right way for the good of the game in its entirety."
Washington faced the Astros in last World Series, which the Nationals won in seven games. Starter Patrick Corbin said Thursday that the team "heard things" prior to the championship series and used a complex sign system that included laminated cards and multiple sets of signs for each pitcher in an effort to prevent Houston from deciphering their signs. Catcher Kurt Suzuki told The Washington Post that there was "no question" the Astros continued to steal signs through the 2019 World Series.
"I have no proof of what, if anything, they did in 2019," Rizzo said. "We assumed they were and we prepared diligently for it."
In an offseason that's included a parade to celebrate D.C.'s first World Series title since 1933, a record-setting contract that landed Gerrit Cole with the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquiring Mookie Betts from the Boston Red Sox and a slew of rule changes that will change how relievers are used, it's been the Astros who've been dominating the headlines.
"One of the problems I have with it is that opening day [of spring training] 2020, there's 50 media outlet people here and 47 were at the Houston Astros who cheated to win a World Series and there was three of them here with the current reigning world champions and that's not right."
The Astros have yet to release any kind of statement clarifying Crane's comments, but it was clear he was sticking to a script that included not admitting Houston cheated its way to a World Series title.
"My takeaway from it is that we're the 2019 World Series champions," Rizzo said. "I couldn't be more proud of our group than that. We did it with character, dignity and did it the right way. So we feel good about that. The thing that pains me the most is that it put a black cloud over the sport that I love and that's not right."
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Mike Rizzo on the Astros: Somebodys gotta say the words over there, cheated originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington