When the Giants take the field next month at Scottsdale Stadium, Ron Wotus will begin his 23rd consecutive season on the big league coaching staff, a feat that is impressive for much more than simple longevity.
Wotus was the only member of Bruce Bochy's staff to be brought back by Gabe Kapler. Before that he jumped from Felipe Alou to Bochy, and Dusty Baker to Alou. He is working with his fourth Giants manager because of a commitment to hard work, preparation, communication and competitiveness, traits that Wotus first started to hone as a star at Bacon Academy in Colchester, Conn.
Wotus has spent most of his life in professional baseball, but the skillset that he still leans on today first became a part of his life on a different patch of grass. He carries with him the lessons taught by John McKiernan, his high school soccer coach.
"I have such great memories of playing soccer. It was by far my favorite sport, and it's because of John," Wotus said. "If he wasn't my coach, there's no way it would have been my favorite sport. He's special. He knows how to connect, he knows how to relate, he's got a great sense of humor, he's super-competitive, but he's got that great balance that all the good ones have. And he cares."
Wotus has spent his professional life helping to develop players like Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Brandon Belt, and on Thursday night he'll get a chance to honor the man who taught him so much of what he still passes on. Wotus will honor McKiernan at the sixth annual Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards, which will air Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.
When Wotus was called and asked to honor an instrumental coach in his life, he immediately turned to his wife, Laurie. He knew what he wanted to do.
"I got emotional and she immediately said, 'You have to honor John,'" Wotus said. "This is over 45 years ago that we met. All these years that have passed, you really realize how important he was to your life."
Wotus met McKiernan in middle school, and the latter immediately knew that there was something different about the young boy who would go on to play four years of varsity baseball, soccer and basketball at Bacon Academy, a small school with a graduating class of about 100 students.
"You could see (in fifth grade) that he was very gifted," McKiernan said. "He lit up the room when he was in it ... He was always so happy to be on the field or the court or the diamond. He just loved athletics and he loved competing and he was always prepared and ready to go. Whatever we were doing he seemed to enjoy, except maybe he didn't like all the running we did in soccer. I think he could have done without that."
All that running still sticks with Wotus four-plus decades later. He remembers McKiernan's soccer team doing heavy conditioning work. It was necessary for the small-school team.
"What he said to us was that we may not have the most skill on the field, but we'll be the best conditioned and we'll make up for any lack of skill that we have," Wotus said. "That stuck with me. Don't be out-conditioned, don't be outworked, don't be out-prepared. I think that's the foundation of my approach as a coach. You have to give it your all and you're going to prepare. It's the preparation that's important, and then you go out and compete."
The competing part was easy for Wotus, a three-sport star. McKiernan coached the junior varsity basketball team but never had Wotus there because he was put on varsity right away, eventually earning all-state honors. The Pirates selected Wotus in the 16th round of the 1979 draft and he ended up playing 32 games in the big leagues. It was on the soccer field, however, that Wotus made his biggest prep impact. He was an All-New England center forward for Bacon, scoring 89 career goals, which stood as a state record for more than two decades.
McKiernan remembers Wotus for much more than the prolific numbers. He said Wotus constantly pushed to make sure his teammates were recognized and brought intensity no matter the score.
"He never thought that we were out of a game," McKiernan said.
Wotus matched his production with dependability.
In four years, he never missed a practice in any of his three sports, and he sat out just one game in his high school career, the result of a sprained ankle. With a tournament coming up, McKiernan held his star out of the final game of the season so he could get back to 100 percent.
"He tried to sneak into the game a few times," McKiernan said. "I had to pull him back."
The relationship that was built during soccer practices and hundreds of games of horse on the basketball court has lasted to this day. McKiernan has been out to San Francisco a couple of times to visit Wotus, who was the bench coach for all three title teams. Occasionally he'll plan a cross-country road trip that allows him to visit Wotus in a visiting city.
Wotus is getting ready for his 33rd year in the Giants organization. Before he gets back to baseball, he'll take a moment to honor the man who made such an impact during his soccer career. It was an easy choice to give the award to McKiernan.
"John, he was the guy. The way I coach now, I think of him often," Wotus said. "I try to emulate him in a lot of ways."
You can donate to the "Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards," here.
“Coaching Corps Game Changer Awards” presented by Levi’s airs Tuesday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area
(Reuters) - Major League Baseball (MLB) teams secretly distorted player statistics and deprived fans of an “honest fantasy baseball competition,” a lawsuit filed by a fan alleges in the fallout to a sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox.
FILE PHOTO - May 18, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; A general view at Fenway Park before the game between the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
The lawsuit, which named MLB, the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox as defendants, was filed in a Manhattan federal court on behalf of all fans who participated in DraftKings’ fantasy baseball contests, which plaintiff Kristopher Olson claimed were tainted by the sign-stealing scandal.
“At the very least, all of DraftKings’ fantasy baseball contests from early in the 2017 baseball season through the end of the 2018 regular season and into the 2019 season, were tainted by cheating and compromised, at the expense of DraftKings’ contestants,” according to the filing on Thursday.
DraftKings’ fantasy sports and betting operations are big business; it said in December it would go public this year in a deal putting its value at $3.3 billion.
The complaint claimed MLB has actively promoted fantasy baseball competition through its equity stake in fantasy sports and gambling company DraftKings.
According to MLB, the sign-stealing scheme evolved during Astros’ World Series-winning 2017 season.
The scandal has already seen Carlos Beltran’s first season as manager of the New York Mets ending before it even began.
Beltran, who played for Houston Astros in 2017, was implicated in MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s findings last week that the team stole pitching signs from opposing catchers.
According to Manfred’s report, Beltran was among a group of players who discussed that Astros could improve a system that was already in place to decode opposing teams’ signs and communicate the signs to the batter.
Beltran became the third manager to lose his job as a result of the cheating scandal. The Astros fired AJ Hinch after the report surfaced last week while Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach in 2017, was dismissed by the Boston Red Sox.
Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru. Editing by Gerry Doyle
What I’m Hearing: Derek Jeter’s Hall of Fame election could not have come at a better time USA TODAY
Truth was elusive. Only a partial picture emerged. Punishment was unsatisfactory. The game, undeniably, was warped.
Baseball knows these conditions and is living through them right now in the wake of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal that undeniably affected their path to a 2017 World Series title – and resulted in the termination of three managers.
The release of Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s nine-page report and its aftermath feels a little too familiar – a jarring, touchstone moment for a scandal lurking beneath the surface.
It feels more than a little like baseball’s long-running reckoning with performance-enhancing drugs.
Both electronic sign-stealing and the so-called steroid era illuminated the game’s darker corners, where players seeking an edge took the inches baseball gave them and tried to stretch them a mile. They played out in areas away from the field – a video room, a tunnel, a rogue trainer at a gym, a FedEx package delivered to a clubhouse attendant.
ASTROS SCANDAL: Royals star says Altuve 'took' his All-Star Game spot
WHISTLEBLOWER: Mike Fiers faces backlash for speaking up
It’s far too soon to tell which scandal ultimately impacted the game more, but the early fallout from the Astros scandal reveals a high level of resentment from fans and players alike.
As the anger bubbles and further developments unfold, a look at the similarities and differences between the height of baseball’s PED usage, and its ongoing struggle with technology-driven cheating:Corrupting the game
Veteran lefty Alex Wood recently bridged the gap between the game’s two scandals of this century in one tweet: “I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.”
It’s a fair point. As unstoppable as Barry Bonds was in 2001, his 73 home runs and 177 walks still came with 93 strikeouts. So even one of the greatest hitters of all time, with access to perhaps the greatest chemist in sports history, had little chance if he was sitting fastball and instead received a changeup.
And this concept perhaps best differentiates the two scandals. Sign-stealing’s effect is granular and immediate – one pitch, one immediate outcome, repeated until the victimized team changes up its signs. Wood was the lone Los Angeles Dodgers starter who pitched well in Houston during the 2017 World Series, the only visiting starter to win a playoff game at Minute Maid Park that postseason and told The Athletic last month “we’d heard whispers of the shady stuff they were doing.”
So, even without knowing exactly what the Astros were up to, Wood was able to protect himself by frequently changing up sign sequences. A pain and a distraction, to be sure, but protection, nonetheless.
PEDs, meanwhile, touch every corner of the game and, during the height of the steroid era, played a significant role in the very makeup of the player population. Much has been made in recent weeks, rightfully so, of a young pitcher facing an Astros lineup that knows what pitch is coming and getting rocked, and the effect it would have on his career.
Yet before meaningful drug testing, that pitcher perhaps never gets a big league shot, bypassed by a chemically-enhanced colleague.
“To say it wasn't cheating to me, it’s just a fallacy. It was a total disadvantage to play clean,” Dan Naulty, a four-year big league reliever who admitted steroids helped him pack 40 pounds on his 6-6 frame, told Sports Illustrated in 2012.
As fastballs picked up steam and warning-track drives cleared fences, the PED effect seemed obvious in countless cases: Fringe prospects became fringe big leaguers. Fringe big leaguers became regulars. All-Stars became all-time greats. All-time greats became Barry Bonds.
Bonds during a game in 2003 at Houston's Minute Maid Park. (Photo: David J. Phillip, AP)There is no definitive ‘report’
When Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report on PED use in the game in 2005, it seemed an odd, guilt-driven choice: Extract as many skeleton bones from as many closets as possible to shed light on a problem the game largely ignored from the 1990s through the early 2000s.
Years later, it looks more like a master PR stroke.
When fans, players and media speak now of the athletes who played through the steroid era, one question often comes to mind: Was he named in the Mitchell Report?
It’s a fair question. Some 86 players found their way into former Sen. George Mitchell’s tome, though the majority were already revealed in media reports or criminal investigations.
Still, in working with U.S. attorneys and other authorities, Mitchell and Co. nailed some key pelts to the wall: Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada and many others.
At the time, it was clear those named were victims of bad luck as much as bad choices – PED users who happened to deal with figures eventually caught up in criminal investigations.
The advent of drug testing with penalties in 2005, the leak of selected names of those testing positive during supposedly anonymous testing in 2003 and a Miami New Times report in 2013 that blew the lid off the Biogenesis scandal revealed many more names, Alex Rodriguez included.
But the dramatic 2007 release of the Mitchell Report is now viewed as a touchstone moment of the steroid era. In reality, it merely scratched the surface.
Just as the Mitchell Report was largely a reaction to the stunning book Game of Shadows, a tome that greatly detailed Bonds’ and fellow MVP Jason Giambi’s connection to the BALCO ring, Manfred’s nine-page Astros write-up was inspired by news media reporting.
The Athletic’s depiction of the Astros’ sign-stealing system – and ex-Astro Mike Fiers’ willingness to speak to the outlet – sprang Manfred’s investigations arm into action. Through 68 witness interviews, tens of thousands of emails and the Astros’ cooperation, three managers and a general manager lost their job.
Despite those concrete results, though, the investigation leaves an unsatisfactory taste, simply because it’s highly probable there’s far more illegal sign-stealing going in the game – be it in Houston or any other city where a tech-savvy organization and a hyper-competitive dugout converge to flout the rules.
Just as the Mitchell Report forced a few dozen players to bear the brunt of steroid use, these Astros – unless further details emerge - will be the face of high-tech baseball crimes.
And that’s simply because we don’t know what we don’t know.Robbing the henhouse
Given an open road, a sports car and the assurance no law enforcement would be present, how fast would you drive?
That’s a concept thousands of players weighed as baseball’s steroid usage boomed.
Was it illegal? Sure – but feds always targeted dealers, not users. Did baseball forbid it? Kind of – a 1991 memo from commissioner Fay Vincent prohibited their use.
Yet without meaningful drug testing – initially not a high priority for the league, and ultimately stonewalled by rightfully paranoid union officials – there was little stopping players from doping away.
This aligns with illicit sign-stealing, with MLB playing catch-up against technology. Replay review began in 2014, and most of the ensuing four seasons were likely a Wild West for teams seeking an edge – a room with a friendly staffer featuring a real-time feed with multiple angles?
That changed in September 2017, when the Apple Watch scandal involving the Boston Red Sox rang the bell that much more was going on in clubhouses than determining whether to challenge a call. Manfred’s strongly-worded memo ultimately laid the trap that caused the suspensions and dismissals of Astros manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow.
But until the league placed watchdogs in clubhouses for the 2018 postseason and 2019 season, there was little to stop teams, proving a steroid-era axiom remains true:
When millions of dollars, livelihoods and championships are on the line, it’s almost certain not everyone will do the right thing when nobody is watching.Don’t snitch
Baseball’s clubhouse culture was the greatest enabler of the steroid era, be it clusters of players on specific teams all doping, to the vast majority of it remaining a dark secret.
In fact, baseball’s code of silence is so severe that it remains stunning when someone steps outside of it. Fiers, then, joined Ken Caminiti, Jose Canseco and journeyman players turned Mitchell Report stars Larry Bigbie and Adam Piatt in the role of whistleblower.
Unlike those figures, however, Fiers was an active player when he shined a light on his former teammates, and even figures to make a few starts against the Astros this season. Current managers and coaches have lauded Fiers for coming forward, while several former players derided himfor doing so.
In an era when baseball places a higher value on inclusion and player welfare, Fiers likely will face greater acceptance than he would have two decades ago. That doesn’t mean he’ll avoid significant blowback.Pariahs forever?
Sport’s capacity for forgiveness certainly extends to baseball’s PED users, as Mitchell Report alums have gone on to become managers, coaches and broadcasters.
The Astros flap has honed in on just one team, however, and two of the sport’s brightest, most relatable stars in Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. It appears they will be pariahs outside Houston for the foreseeable future.
But for how long? Bregman probably has at least a decade of baseball left in him. Altuve still performs at a MVP level. Both have a lot to offer the game beyond the white lines, as do Hinch, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, the three managers ensnared.
Time should heal many of the wounds. After all, the scandals may change, but the conditions often remain the same.
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