Boone: Astros angst remains, trying to ‘move on’

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  • Buster OlneyESPN Senior Writer

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    • Senior writer ESPN Magazine/ESPN.com
    • Analyst/reporter ESPN television
    • Author of “The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty”

TAMPA, Fla. — On the other side of the state, Astros players remained under guard, cordoned away from reporters in advance of what is expected to be an orchestrated organizational message, in a first collective response to their sign-stealing scandal.

At Yankees camp, however, there are no signs of group-speak, no guardrails placed around the players in how they react to one of the most notorious episodes in baseball history.

Catcher Gary Sanchez cracked a joke here Wednesday related to the theory that the Astros used a buzzer system.

Luis Severino acknowledged that he has more context about his supposed pitch-tipping problem from a couple of years ago — maybe it wasn’t that — but said he doesn’t need any apologies from his Houston peers.

Earlier this week, Masahiro Tanaka said, in his usual understated manner, that, yes, he feels cheated out of the 2017 World Series.

And manager Aaron Boone admitted that while he has exchanged text messages with AJ Hinch, a longtime friend and the former Astros manager, he’s not sure if he’s ready to go beyond that yet.

Boone sees all of this as healthy, that it’s a good thing that the players expressing their feelings about how they may have been impacted by the Astros’ illicit sign-stealing. When news of it first broke, he said, he shared raw text messages and conversations with players. “The range of emotions is huge — mad, frustrated, disappointed,” he said.

At some point, Boone said, it’ll be time for all of them to move on, to set that conversation about the Astros aside and focus on the 2020 season. “Some guys will want to talk about it and give you (reporters) a lot,” he said. “Some guys have already moved on.”

Surrounded by a horseshoe of reporters, Sanchez was asked about Jose Altuve’s game-winning home run, and the viral video of Altuve clutching his uniform top and screaming at teammates to not tear off his jersey. Questions have been raised on social media about whether this was because Altuve was wearing some kind of wiring related to the sign-stealing.

“I can tell you if I hit a homer,” Sanchez said through his interpreter, “and I get my team to the World Series, they can rip off my pants. They can rip everything off.”

Boone addressed Hinch’s interview with MLB Network last week, and Hinch’s stilted, lawyerly answer to a question whether the Astros used a buzzer system.

Rather than say yes or no, Hinch referred to the commissioner’s investigation and that he believed the finding that there was no evidence of buzzers.

Boone acknowledged that he’s not fully convinced that the Astros weren’t wearing buzzers. “That’s certainly one of those great unknowns,” said Boone. “Certainly I’ve spent time, as I’m sure a lot of people have, wondering all the things that could have potentially been going on… I’ve spent time wondering, and we’ll probably never know for sure.”

Boone and Hinch were born a year apart and have known each other since they were teenagers, playing with and against each other, and they managed against each other the last two seasons, including the American League Championship Series last fall.

The Yankees went into that playoff assuming the worst about the Astros and their sign-stealing, arming their pitchers with a computer-generated system of signs. “(beginital)Nobody(endital) was stealing our signs,” said one staffer.

But during the series, the Yankees became aware of whistling from the Astros’ side of the field, bringing it to the attention of the umpires. In a press conference before Game 4, Hinch mocked the Yankees for their concerns. “Man, I’m glad you asked that question,” Hinch said, “and I thought it would come up today. And we talked about this the other day. And, in reality, it’s a joke.”

“And then when I get contact about some questions about whistling, it made me laugh because it’s ridiculous. And had I know that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees, or any other team, we would have practiced it in spring training. And we would have got — it apparently works, even when it doesn’t happen.”

Since then, Mike Fiers revealed to The Athletic that the Astros systematically stole signs using fixed cameras. Hinch was found to have knowledge of that system, suspended for the 2020 season, and fired by the Astros. Shortly after Hinch was fired, Boone sent Hinch a text; Hinch responded immediately, with a text. But they have not spoken. “At some point,” said Boone “I just haven’t been ready to go there.”

Boone also worked at ESPN alongside Alex Cora, who was the bench coach of the 2017 Astros, and then the manager of the 2018 Boston Red Sox that knocked Boone’s Yankees out of the playoffs. The Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating the ’18 Red Sox for sign-stealing, and Cora was fired as Boston manager. Carlos Beltran, a former special assistant in the Yankees’ organization in Boone’s time as manager, was on track to be the Mets’ manager before he was implicated in the Houston scandal — and then let go by the Mets.

Boone paused for a few seconds when he was asked about the state of those friendships. “Look, those are guys I still consider to be friends,” he said. “I’ve struggled to make sense of it.”

“Hopefully, I treat people with grace. But it’s been a little bit of a struggle for me.”

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