It’s not often that Nick Markakis is a bellwether, for anything. The veteran Braves outfielder has long been known for his intentionally boring, canned-answer interviews — never one to draw public attention with outspoken opinions and hot takes. So when he does speak up, it’s a big deal.
That’s why his comments on Tuesday about the Astros’ cheating scandal should resonate loudly across baseball as perhaps the greatest indicator of how much anger seethes among MLB players over Houston’s illegal sign-stealing. Though we’ve seen other players bash the Houston squad and MLB’s investigation and rulings, Markakis’ words deserve special attention.
“To see something like that, it’s damaging to baseball. It’s anger. I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating,” Markakis told reporters Tuesday morning as he reported to spring training.
Braves outfielder Nick Markakis goes off on Houston Astros..
“Everything has been handled a bad way.. the players are scot free.. Every single guy over there needs a beating..
Full comments ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/nAXGjleFUx
— Zach Klein (@ZachKleinWSB) February 18, 2020
MORE: Rob Manfred sure seems to hate baseball
Those words, coming from the soft-spoken Markakis, are the equivalent of another player going into a clubhouse, ala The Punisher, and physically laying waste to an entire team. Heck, maybe laying waste to several teams. For Markakis to offer such un-Markakis public comments shows the level of anger that has taken up residence across team camps in Florida and Arizona. In other words, there’s a megaton of hostility — not just at Astros players, but for the way commissioner Rob Manfred handled the investigation.
“I know as players we do not agree with what they did. We don’t stand behind them and never will we support them for their actions. I think they got off pretty easy. They are going to be able to go out there and compete with no ramifications at all,” Markakis said of the lack of punishment for players. “I think the commissioner completely handed it the wrong way, but that’s the way he did it. That’s the way we got to live with it. I know a lot of people disagree with him. The way he handled the situation he should be embarrassed of himself.”
These don’t seem to be feelings that can be easily abated. But not just because Markakis has joined the verbal fray.
Mike Trout, the game’s best player — but also another of its duller public personalities — voiced similar criticisms Monday, saying he lost respect for the cheating players and took issue with MLB’s resolution.
“I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything,” Trout told reporters. “It was a player-driven thing. It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected, a lot of people lost jobs. It was tough. … (MLB) should definitely do something.”
FAGAN: Players must speak loudly, publicly to stop cheating in real time
That’s obviously a common sentiment among players and fans this spring. But as The Athletic reported on Tuesday, it’s apparently not a matter of Manfred just deciding to punish the guilty Astros players. There are labor-relations rules at play apart from MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the Players’ Association, meaning the MLBPA and Manfred would need to work together to set the standards of punishment for future infractions. That can certainly happen and, given the anger around the league, could very well come to fruition soon.
Still, Manfred — who came down on the Red Sox in 2018 for using an Apple Watch to relay information and later issued a memo declaring such things illegal — could’ve taken steps ahead of the Astros scandal to ensure players could be punished for breaking that rule. But he didn’t do that, hence much of the player anger pointed in his direction.
Without a formal and sufficient calming of all this anger, the player-driven cheating scandal is likely to face player-driven punishment, despite Manfred’s warning against retaliation during games. Because when official justice lacks, the vigilante variety is often seen as a necessary substitute.
So here we are, on the precipice of a new MLB season, and seemingly the entire league outside of Houston is carrying at least some level of rage. If Markakis’ comments are any indicator, that rage is white-hot — and not likely to subside anytime soon.