Not that anyone needs a reminder, but Justin Verlander is one of the loudest voices in baseball when it comes to keeping the game clean.
He's railed against steroid users. He's accused MLB (and Rawlings) of juicing the balls. He's condemned the spread of sign stealing -- yes, sign stealing. Which put Verlander in quite the moral predicament when it was revealed this winter that the Astros cheated on their way to the 2017 World Series title.
Verlander has been quiet on the matter until now, as the Astros reported for spring training Thursday and faced a slew of questions about a scandal that continues to ripple throughout baseball.
Could Verlander have stepped in and stopped a sign-stealing scheme that was in place before he arrived via a trade from Detroit? In hindsight, he wishes he had tried.
"Once I spent some time and understood what was happening, I wish I had said more. I can't go back and reverse my decision. I wish I had said more and I didn't, and for that I’m sorry," he said.
Verlander wouldn't divulge what exactly he did say: "That's between myself and my teammates. I’ll leave it at that."
That was about the extent of Verlander's comments Thursday. Despite several pointed questions -- the kind of questions Verlander has embraced in the past -- he shied away from the hard answers and stuck to what felt like a boxed apology.
Asked his initial reaction upon learning of the Astros' operation, he said, "I don’t want to get into too many specifics. We’re here today to apologize as a team, and I think those opinions were expressed by everybody here."
But Verlander would have been livid had be been the victim of Houston's rule-breaking, a complex system reportedly dubbed 'Codebreaker' within the organization that involved a feed from a center field camera and a monitor on the wall in the clubhouse tunnel. He even nodded when this was suggested.
As Verlander said back in 2017 when he was still with the Tigers, "It's not about gamesmanship anymore. It used to be, 'Hey, if you can get my signs, good for you.' In the past, if a guy on second was able to decipher a few pitches, that was kind of part of the game. I think it's a different level now. It's not good.”
So does it change Verlander's opinion of his teammates that they were cheating, specifically to gain an advantage on pitchers?
"Again, I think as a team we’ve expressed our remorse, myself included, and I’ll leave it at that," he said.
On one matter, Verlander was clear. He doesn't feel the lone World Series title of his career is tainted. Asked if he feels differently about the championship in hindsight, Verlander said, "Personally, I don’t. I think everyone can draw their own conclusions and have their own opinions, though."
Verlander went 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA over six games in the 2017 playoffs. He was also named ALCS MVP in Houston's seven-game win over the Yankees. He said it's "impossible" to know whether the Astros would have won without the benefit of cheating.
"I think we had an extremely talented ball club," he said. "In my opinion we had the best team in baseball."
Maybe so. And those Astros will forever be known as world champs. But they'll be remembered as cheaters first, which has to eat away at Verlander's virtues of fair play. He was supposed to put a bow on his first championship by marrying Kate Upton in Italy.
Instead he stood in front of his locker in a humbled clubhouse on the first day of spring training three years later and said, "We crossed a boundary, we broke the rules, and we’re sorry." Not the honeymoon he envisioned.