“For a journeyman pitcher a disastrous inning, such as what took place in Houston on August 4th, could and did prove to be the death knell.”
— Mike Bolsinger lawsuit
“(Defenants) secretly put a deficient product on the field that could result (and now has resulted) in severe penalties.”
— Ticket holder class-action lawsuit
I’ve been writing a weekly column on law and history for the Delaware Gazette for nearly 15 years now, and while people occasionally approach me on the street or at the grocery store to tell me that they enjoyed a particular subject, never have I had such a large volume of those comments as I did with a column I penned several weeks ago about Major League Baseball’s handling of the Houston Astros cheating scandal.
What bothered me so much, and what seemed to bother the people who have approached me about it, is that while the team’s manager and general manager suffered harsh penalties, the team got to keep its World Series title and the players received no punishment at all — in exchange for their cooperation in the investigation.
People recognize that other teams — most notably the Los Angeles Dodgers, but also teams like our local Cleveland Indians — were cheated out of fair opportunities, and players on other teams were denied a fair shot at success, or perhaps even at a career in professional baseball. We all have innate sense of what’s fair. It’s a sense that seems partially born to us and partially shaped by our experiences in the world. The punishments handed down by the league office seem to fall short of fairness.
Baseball is certainly “America’s Game,” but America’s way of redressing a sense of being wronged is to turn to the courts. So, it isn’t particularly surprising that since I wrote about the Astros cheating scandal, not one, but two major lawsuits have been filed against the team over the subject of its cheating. The first of those lawsuits stems directly from the on-field results of the scandal.
Mike Bolsinger was drafted three times. After high school he was drafted by the Indians, but he decided to attend the University of Arkansas. While in college, he was drafted by the Oakland A’s, and following his senior year, the Arizona Diamonbacks drafted him in the 15th round in 2010. He pitched for Arizona in 2014, became a regular member of the Los Angeles Dodgers starting rotation in 2015, and made his final major league appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays in the midst of the Astros cheating in 2017.
His very last major league appearance — the one that ended his career for good — happened in Houston on Aug. 4, 2017. He faced eight batters. Seven of them reached base. He threw 29 pitches to those eight batters, and according to his attorneys, on 12 of those pitches the tape of the game reveals the sound of banging on a trash can — the method the Astros used to cheat. Some players have speculated that Houston’s cheating could have resulted in the end of an opponent’s pitching career. Bolsinger says he has ironclad proof that it ended his. He says that the Astros knew exactly what he was going to throw that day, and as a result they hit it all, and he never took the mound in an MLB game again.
Bolsinger is seeking $31 million in damages — the exact amount that the Astros received in team postseason bonuses for 2017. But he’s also asking that the entire amount be donated to charity.
The pitcher’s lawsuit isn’t the only one filed against the Astros in the past few weeks, and the other has come from a most unexpected source — a season ticket holder. Ten days ago, Adam Wallach filed a class-action lawsuit against the Astros asking that all of the team’s fans be reimbursed for increased ticket prices since the 2017 season. His logic is that the team was only able to increase prices because of its World Series win, and since the team cheated to get that title, then the price hike was based on fraud. He’s also asking the court to bar the team from raising ticket prices this season.
Several major league players have expressed their outrage over the cheating, with some even calling out the commissioner by name. But not everyone has lost their sense of humor. The Staten Island Yankees, New York’s short season A-league affiliate, has announced that when Houston’s A-league team comes to town, they’re going to have a very special giveaway. Every fan in attendance at Richmond County Bank Ballpark that night is a going to get a miniature trash can of their very own. One that they can bang every time Houston’s minor-leaguers come to bat.
Regardless of the results of lawsuits, that seems like a tiny dose of poetic baseball justice.
David Hejmanowski is judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. He has written a weekly column on law and history for the Gazette since 2005.