Jonny Miller always gets the first question. After covering the Red Sox for longer than many of the current beat writers have been alive the longtime radio man deserves that right.
Wednesday night, he didn't waste the moment.
"I find it hard to believe one person was involved in the scheme. How could he act alone?"
The one person Miller was referencing was Red Sox video scout J.T. Watkins. The scheme was what Major League Baseball identified the 2018 World Champs as doing. The impetus for the question wasn't difficult to decipher: It was hard to believe that this one employee -- a former minor-leaguer who had represented a model of consistency, hard work and loyalty since graduating from West Point -- should be the only one to be put in MLB's crosshairs.
Sure, the Red Sox lost a second-round pick. Oh well. One less prospect pales in comparison to the loss of one man's reputation. Watkins deserved punishment. But he didn't deserve to be the only one being whacked with it.
Everyone on this conference call knew this. The media. The Red Sox executives. Everyone. That was a reality surfaced in Sam Kennedy's answer to Miller's question.
"We accept the findings in the report and Major League Baseball conducted the interviews. It was exhaustive and thorough," said the Sox team president. "It found that J.T. engaged in the conduct described in the report with a limited group of players. That’s really all we can say given that it was Baseball’s conclusion and their report."
Miller wasn't going to stop there. And he shouldn't have.
He wanted to know why despite the fact players were identified in the Commissioner's report as knowing what was going on weren't identified like Watkins was. Immunity was the answer.
"Shouldn't they know between right and wrong?' Miller responded.
Welcome to the very unsatisfying conclusion of baseball's six-month cheating investigations. Hours of investigation and interviews. Pages upon pages of explanations. Bravo Baseball. But you still got it wrong. That was the feeling we were left with while everyone scurried about trying to find out they could about a guy named J.T. Watkins.
It all feels ... ugly.
No matter how big or small the transgressions were thought to be at the time, they cost this one guy a lot. OK, you got your immunity. But if there isn't at least some serious Venmo-ing heading Watkins way in the next couple of days that's just sad.
Think about it this way: Watkins is perceived as the poster boy for the most exhaustive investigation in MLB history. (At least that's what they told us when taking three months to wrap this up.) He sat in front of a computer behind the Red Sox dugout and sporadically distributed information to those hovering in his workspace. Conversely, the guys who whacked the trash cans in Houston remain paid anonymous employees.
Somebody had to be the face of the frenzy. Evidently Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora filled MLB's non-player quota in Houston. An employee of the Red Sox needed to be punished for something so ... enter the "rogue" video guy, and absolutely no one else. It all seems too convenient for a sport that is thirsty for convenience. Yes, they did wrong. THEY.
There are other bits of uneasiness ...
- How does Cora get mentioned 11 times in the Houston report, being portrayed as the key figure in the works -- with Luhnow and Hinch being viewed as being on the periphery -- yet all three get the relatively the same punishment (missing the entire 2020 season). It seems incredibly inconsistent. What it also appears to feed is MLB's continued quest for convenience. It was easy to kill Cora when that first report came out. Now maybe he's somewhere closer to the other two when carving up the Astros' blame pie. Which is it Mr. Manfred?
- Manfred said weeks ago the Red Sox report was done. Unless it ran out of typewriter ribbon, we assumed MLB was simply riding out the nation's current uncertainty. Maybe. Yet the fact that it ultimately decided to release this thing on the afternoon before the Super Bowl of this COVID-19-induced hiatus -- the NFL Draft -- opened up the conversation. Do you really think people are going to be talking about this leading up to Pick No. 23 Thursday night? Yet if it is revealed post-Draft, say Monday, this becomes the sports topic for the country.
- Then there was the unanswerable question: Would the Red Sox have won the World Series without the kind of chicanery highlighted by MLB? That is impossible to tell.
Did it taint the title?
"No," Kennedy said. "No. Not at all."
Maybe. But that's really not the takeaway today. That debate has already been rung dry. What Wednesday brought was a report that highlighted so much wrong, with the sign-stealing just a piece of the problem.
All involved might want to put this in the rearview mirror. Too bad. The image of J.T. Watkins will be staring back for some time.