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I Wish I’d Been Wrong

Feb 12 2020
Photo by
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Photo by
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Trevor Bauer
Cincinnati Reds
Feb 12 2020

A lot of people in baseball know me for being outspoken, which is another way of saying that I piss a lot of people off. But I really don’t know that “outspoken” is the right way to describe me. I try to speak the truth — always — and say things that are based in facts. I’m not a loose cannon. If I’m wrong, I say so. I understand that the truth can upset people, but I’m never going to stop sticking up for myself, or for what I think is right.

Being so direct can be tough. You’re out there alone a lot of the time, and it can get exhausting. But I’m used to that. I grew up in a loving family, but I essentially grew up alone. I had no friends for a while. I was an athlete, but I was also a nerd. And so I didn’t really fit in with the jocks because I was a nerd, and I didn’t fit in with the nerds because I was a jock.

So when I was in high school I would go and play chess or do calculus homework during lunch periods instead of hanging around with anyone else. And when I got home after school I’d do my homework and then go to the park to train on my own for three or four hours. On Friday nights I would stay at home with my dad — instead of going to the movies, or a party, or whatever — and watch Friday Night Fights. I got used to being happy when I was alone.

I’m never going to stop sticking up for myself, or for what I think is right.

But before I got used to it, it was hard — I’m not going to lie. I remember looking at myself in the mirror one morning and thinking, What’s so wrong with me? Why don’t people like me? I did well in school. I was successful athletically. I was going to play baseball at UCLA, which was pretty cool. I treated people well. I liked what I saw.

It was at that moment that I made up my mind to just always be myself. I was like, O.K., I don’t really care what people think of me. And that’s one thing that I’m just not willing to compromise at this point. You’re not going to censor me, you’re not going to tell me what I can and can’t say, because that’s who I am. Like it, love it, hate it, forget it, whatever — that’s important to me.

So two years ago, when people got mad at me for saying that the Astros’ pitchers appeared to be using foreign substances to increase the spin rates of their pitches, it wasn’t easy. I was out there pretty much all by myself. But I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me what to say. I was going to speak the truth.

And, unfortunately, the truth turned out to be even worse than that. But believe me when I say: I wish that it hadn’t.

Jeff Curry/USA TODAY Sports

Players in MLB have been hearing rumblings about sign-stealing — the trash cans, the videotaping of dugouts — and all sorts of different stuff in Houston for about two or three years now. But while we weren’t too happy about it, a lot of us also didn’t really feel comfortable saying anything about it publicly. With no evidence, it’s very tricky — if you’re wrong, you’re talking millions of dollars, your livelihood, your family, your reputation. So stuff had been talked about plenty amongst players, but almost all of it was behind closed doors.

That changed for me in 2018 after I’d picked like the lowest hanging fruit, like the least offensive thing to say — that the Astros’ pitchers appeared to be using sticky substances to increase the spin rates on their pitches. Right away, fans denounced me, and some players even made fun of me. But I was like, “You can’t deny that you’re doing that. It’s very obvious to everybody.” I mean, when I see a guy go from being a good pitcher for one team and spinning the ball at 2,200 rpm, to spinning the ball at 2,600 or 2,700 in Houston, I know exactly what happened.

I’ve been chasing spin rate since 2012. For eight years I’ve been trying to figure out how to increase the spin on my fastball because I’d identified it way back then as such a massive advantage. I knew that if I could learn to increase it through training and technique, it would be huge. But eight years later, I haven’t found any other way except using foreign substances.

Baseball will never address that problem unless it has to, though, because I would guess 70% of the pitchers in the league use some sort of technically illegal substance on the ball. It’s just that some organizations really know how to weaponize that and some don’t. So the Astros are super advanced analytically and they know how to weaponize it.

I would guess 70% of the pitchers in the league use some sort of technically illegal substance on the ball.

MLB only addressed the sign-stealing problem because it had to. Because former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers came forward last November and spoke to The Athletic. I heard someone on TV say a few weeks ago that Fiers should have gone to baseball and not to a reporter. But this had been going on for two years! Baseball had been getting reports from around the league on just this issue all along, but what had happened? Nothing. Then Fiers says something and an article’s written and all of a sudden….

Look, MLB is a business. It cares about perception and profits. It looks at the game that way — and it should. I care about perception and profits, too.

But I also care about how the game is played, and the integrity of it. On the field the players look at the game as a competition, and they’re trying to win. If I lose, fine. But if I lose, and then I find out that you were cheating — that you had an advantage that I either didn’t have access to or chose not to utilize because it was technically illegal — then that pisses me off. That can’t happen.

Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports

I’m O.K. with stealing signs. I really am. It’s been part of the game for a long time. But where do you draw the line? That’s the real question, to me.

And I think baseball had to draw the line here. Why is what the Astros were doing different (or worse) than anything that had happened before? It’s because of the technology. They were using cameras focused on catchers to relay signs to hitters in real time — like instantly. And the issue is really the rate at which you can get the signs to the hitter. If you’re breaking me down after the game and I am dumb enough to use the same sequence of signs every single game, that’s on me.

But if you can adjust in real time, what am I supposed to do? How do I compete against that as a pitcher? We might as well just tell batters what pitch is coming and see what happens. Any technology that allows you to relay the catcher’s signs before the pitch is thrown? It should be banned.

In the game itself — in a specific game — sign-stealing is definitely a competitive advantage. We might lose a game that we may not have lost in the absence of it, right? But there are plenty of other things that can go on in a game that you could still win. There’s really no denying, though, that it gives the batter a huge advantage that he wouldn’t have had otherwise. 

But that’s not the only negative effect. One thing you hardly ever hear people mention is how this practice is totally unfair on a completely individual level. Over the course of a long season, if knowing what pitches are coming gives you 10 points, 20 points, on your batting average — lets you hit three, five, 10 more home runs — then what does that do to the players who play your same position, but who had nothing to do with this?

Now you’re more valuable on the free-agent market because you put up better offensive stats. Let’s say that there are only three teams in the market for a third baseman. Well, this player might get the last job, and another player doesn’t have a job, because the first player knew what pitches were coming and the other guy didn’t.

The tentacles of this are just so long, and they reach so far, that it’s tough to be O.K. with it.

Personally I think that what’s going on in baseball now is up there with the Black Sox scandal, and that it will be talked about forever — more so than steroids. Like the steroid era, you can say what you want about it, but steroids weren’t really illegal at the time.

What’s going on in baseball now is up there with the Black Sox scandal, and it will be talked about forever — more so than steroids.

The sign-stealing that was going on in Houston, though, was blatantly illegal. And with the rules that were implemented last year and the year before — that, by the way, were then still broken — it was very clear.

That’s pretty major. I was right all along, yes. And I do feel vindicated. But I wish I had been wrong.

Believe me: How I feel is not part of this story. That’s not what matters here. The game is what matters — above everything else — and I want to see a level playing field for everyone. I want the game to be played with integrity. And I want people to understand that even though the scandal was about what happened between the lines at Minute Maid Park, it had ripple effects that spread throughout the league, to every park and to players at every position.

Fixing this problem is so important. Not just for the game, but also for the guys who play it. I’m one of them, and I want to know that when I’m competing, everything is fair and honest.

And if I feel it isn’t, I’m going to say so. Not only for me, but for the 779 other players in MLB.

Trevor Bauer
Cincinnati Reds