WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Nationals GM Mike Rizzo loved beating Houston in the World Series last October. On Friday he offered up his own St. Valentine’s Day massacre of the cheatin’ Astros.
The two teams share the same spring training complex but that is about all they share.
“We’re the 2019 World Series champions,’’ Rizzo began, “I couldn’t be more proud of this 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 puts a black cloud over the sport that I love. And that’s not right.
“The commissioner did an investigation and found that they cheated in 2017 and 2018. Somebody has got to say the words over there, cheated, and that’s important to me for the sport to move on. We have to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed on this investigation before we end it.’’
It’s bad enough that the electronically-sign-stealing Astros cheated, it’s bad too that Astros ownership and players did not use the word cheated in their apology on Thursday. Owner Jim Crane admitted the Astros “broke the rules’’ and that seemed to be the crisis management phrase of the day for the Astros.
It’s important for Rizzo to hear from the Astros: “We cheated.’’
“We keep skirting around the word,’’ Rizzo said. “And they cheated. They were found guilty of it and I haven’t heard it yet.’’
Asked if he thought the Astros were cheating in the World Series, Rizzo’s answer was most telling and told you the mindset of teams who play the Astros.
“We have no proof of anything they did in 2019, we assumed they were, and we prepared diligently for it,’’ Rizzo said.
Teams assumed the Astros were still cheating and the Nationals heavily prepared as such, protecting and changing signs.
The Nationals won all four games in Houston at Minute Maid Park.
“I literally had thousands of text messages of congratulations and emails,’’ Rizzo said. “I think it was telling that when we won the National League Championship and we knew we were playing the Houston Astros, we got a lot of volunteer phone calls on how to beat them and how to play them.’’
Help to beat the ‘Stros and the Astros Way.
Rizzo’s comments give a peek into how much the Astros are hated by opponents because of their willingness to cheat that cost GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch their jobs.
Luhnow was especially despised by other GMs. Rizzo, 59, said he believes commissioner Rob Manfred will do his best to stop cheating but added this has to come from within an organization.
There must be integrity within an organization.
“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 to happen with the Washington Nationals. We certainly take pride in that in the way we conduct our business and our process. We try to do things the right way for the good of the game in it’s entirety.
“Integrity, that word is tough to describe but it is easy to see for me. It’s the way we do business here.’’
Luhnow created a work place where cheating was rewarded. Integrity was missing. Questionable characters are still in place in the Astros front office.
Opposing teams are fed up.
“We prepared hard for (the World Series),’’ said Rizzo, who has been in the game 38 years. “We fought hard in the short amount of time that we’ve been the Washington Nationals, 13 years to put a competitive team on the field each and every year and it was just satisfying that we got past that first hurdle and the way we won it with this group. It was special. It won’t be forgotten for a long time.
“One of the problems I have (with the Astros) is that (spring training) Opening Day, 2020, there are 50 media people here (in West Palm Beach) and 47 of them were at the Houston Astros who cheated to win a World Series and there were three (media) here with the current reigning World Champions and that is not right.
“This will be the last time I talk about the Houston situation,’’ Rizzo said. “This is the last time I refer back to the 2019 World Championship, we’re looking toward 2020. We hope to be in the same position again next year as reigning World Series Champions.’’
Winning, once again, with integrity.