Anti-Hero
August 13, 2020

Turns out it's the snitching, not the cheating, that really grinds Joe Kelly's gears

As Christopher Powers documented at the time, Joe Kelly became a hero to baseball fans everywhere when he almost plunked a few of the cheatin' Astros, struck out Carlos Correa, called him names, and then executed what we can safely consider the best taunting pout in sports history:

But as Buster Olney noted today, apparently Kelly's biggest beef wasn't with the fact that the Astros cheated, but that they sold out...management? Ownership? It's hard to know what to make of this quote, from Kelly's appearance on teammate Ross Stripling's podcast:

"The people who took the fall for what happened is nonsense," Kelly said. "Yes, everyone is involved. But the way that [sign-stealing system] was run over there was not from coaching staff. ... They're not the head boss in charge of that thing. It's the players. So now the players get the immunity, and all they do is go snitch like a little b----, and they don't have to get fined, they don't have to lose games."

This is, to put it mildly, an interesting take. Yes, the players cheated, and yes, the "punishment" levied on them by Rob Manfred was an absolute joke, and so was the immunity they received. But Kelly's way off base in his implication that the organization isn't responsible. Does he think the players devised and executed a system of cheating all on their own? Anyone who followed the scandal this offseason knows that's not remotely true—it was a top-down scheme run by the team itself, complete with video espionage. The players were complicit, but they were not, as Kelly said, "the head boss." He went on:

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"When you take someone's livelihood ... to save your own ass, that's what I don't like," Kelly said. "Cheating? They cheated. Everyone knows they're cheaters. They know they're cheaters. It's over. That's been there, done that. But now they mess it up by ruining other people's lives, so they f---ed it up twice. ... When you taint someone's name to save your own name, this is one of the worst things that you could probably do. ... That really friggin' bugs me. I think I'll be irritated forever."

Some of this comes from Kelly's relationship with Alex Cora, who was an Astros bench coach in 2017 and who managed Kelly in Boston a year later, and lost his job and was suspended as a result of player testimony. But I don't understand what Kelly wanted the Astros players to do...pretend they had invented the system? Take the fall for the management figures who, at the very least, ran the whole damn thing, and at worst coerced the players into participating?

And why is he so forgiving of a coach like Cora, or Carlos Beltran, who sat back and watched it all happen when they should have been leaders and put a stop to it?

Kelly's performance against the Astros was phenomenal, and very cathartic, but this subsequent take feels pretty anti-player to me. I don't want to go so far as to call him a bootlicker, but this is bootlicker-adjacent in its strange insistence on absolving coaches at the expense of players. Worse, he said the players should apologize to the coaches who were punished. That's not just wrong, it's ridiculous. Kelly was an agent of vengeance on the field, but he seems to understand very little about leadership, and even less about accountability.