Marco Gonzales says he doesn’t feel cheated. But he admits it’s been frustrating to be a major-league pitcher the past few years.
The baseball world has been engulfed by scandal and innuendo surrounding the illicit use of technology in stealing signs, reaching an apex last week when the Houston Astros were severely punished by Major League Baseball for using video to illegally steal pitch signs from catcher to pitcher in 2017 and 2018.
Gonzales, the Seattle Mariners’ ace pitcher, was a regular victim of the Astros’ malfeasance, given both teams reside in the American League West and play one another 19 times a year. So when asked about the scandal during Thursday’s Mariners pre-spring training media event at T-Mobile Park, Gonzales had something to say.
“Listen, I’ve gotten to play the game I love at the highest level for the last few years, share the field with some of these guys,” Gonzales said. “I don’t feel cheated. I feel like it’s become a part of the game, so I feel kind of confused at where baseball is right now. I guess I’m just intrigued to see where it goes from here. I do feel it has been unfair.”
The Astros concocted a scheme in which a monitor was set up near the home dugout at Minute Maid Park in Houston, where it displayed the video feed from behind the pitcher so the opposing catcher’s signs were visible. A player then banged on a trash can to signal to the batter which pitch was coming. This became public in November when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers revealed the details in an article in The Atlantic.
The scandal has been baseball’s main topic of conversation since MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced sanctions against Houston on Jan. 13, but Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais largely dodged questions about the Astros on Thursday.
“My take on it is, that’s the Astros’ story,” Dipoto said. “Its unfortunate for baseball, it’s certainly a black eye and it commanded the news, especially over the last 30 days. But we’re focused on our story, we have to look ahead and not behind. They are a great team, regardless of whatever has happened over the course of these last few years. … We don’t do it, I feel very confident that we’ve stayed above reproach. We’ll continue to do that, and that’s about all I have to say about that.”
But Gonzales was willing to provide a glimpse into what it was like being on the other side of the video lens.
Seattle has been Houston’s whipping boy the past three seasons, going 16-41 against the Astros during that span, including losing 18 of 19 meetings last season. The Mariners finished an average of 25 games behind Houston each of those three years as the Astros ran away with the AL West title. The sign-stealing scheme surely played a role in that.
“We’ve been suspecting for years,” Gonzales said. “It’s not a secret that it happens in baseball. We’ve just done everything we can to protect ourselves.”
While Houston has been the team in the headlines, other teams have also come under suspicion. What that meant was an inordinate amount of preparation time prior to every road start had to be devoted to signs. In the past a pitcher and catcher needed two sets of signs: a simple set were the catcher indicated the pitch type by holding down a certain number of fingers, and a more complex set where a catcher went through a sequence of signs when a runner was on second base. But with teams using underhanded methods to steal signs, Gonzales said he and his catcher had to come up with five or more sets of signs each game.
“I would say over half of our pregame meeting is me and (the catcher) figuring out how we’re going to do this,” Gonzales said. “How do we change signs from set to set, what signs are we going with today? You can only come up with so many signs. I think unfortunately that has been a main part of some of our pregame meetings. Especially when you face teams over and over and over again.”
Gonzales is not a power pitcher, instead relying on things like deception, location and guile. Therefore, he’s the type of pitcher who is particularly vulnerable to sign stealing.
“I think the reason I was frustrated was because I’m the type of pitcher where keeping hitters guessing is my main attribute,” Gonzales said. “It’s my main thing I have to hold on to. I don’t have 98 (mph) in the tank. I don’t have a wipeout slider in the tank. I have to keep people guessing. If they know what’s coming, I have no leverage. So that’s where it does feel like the game I’ve been working on for 20-plus years, working my whole life to achieve, was taken from me.”
While a lot of time and energy has been spent on the Astros and whether their punishment was appropriate, less time has been devoted toward what comes next.
“We’re at a pivotal moment, especially with technology use in-game,” Gonzales said. “I’m interested to see what happens. I know there’s a lot of value to having in-game technology, a lot of healthy value. Guys like to watch their last at-bat, critique their mechanics. These are things that have been tools available to these guys for years and years.
“It will be interesting to see what happens, but I’m hoping it’s a good year to be a pitcher.”
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.
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