Evan Gattis was a much beloved figure during the Astros’ championship run in 2017. The former catcher and DH dubbed “El Oso Blanco” belted 12 home runs in that 2017 season over just 84 games, and his rags-to-riches story of redemption is one for the baseball history books.
But then the sign-stealing allegations came out and turned all of baseball upside down. The Astros players never seemed truly remorseful for their actions — until Thursday, when Gattis went on The Athletic’s “755 is Real” podcast and spilled his guts.
“Everybody wants to be the best player in the f—ing world, man … and we cheated that, for sure, and we obviously cheated baseball and cheated fans,” Gattis told hosts David O’Brien and Eric O’Flaherty. “Fans felt duped. I feel bad for fans. …
“I’m not asking for sympathy or anything like that. If our punishment is being hated by everybody forever, just like, whatever,” Gattis continued. “I don’t know what should be done, but something had to f—ing be done. I do agree with that, big time. I do think it’s good for baseball that we’re cleaning it up. … And I understand that it’s not f—ing good enough to say sorry. I get it.”
Gattis’ message, of course, is a little perplexing, considering he spent some time in the news just last week after posting this glass to his Twitter feed.
That “snitch” is the image of Mike Fiers, the former Astros player who blew the lid off Houston’s sign-stealing ways from the 2017 championship season. Gattis would clarify the image, saying he harbors no will will towards the pitcher. He would also say in the podcast that Fiers did what he had to do and that baseball will be better off once it’s all cleaned up.
Still, the picture was an odd thing to send out to the world if he, in fact, doesn’t have any harsh feelings toward Fiers (which, to be fair, it seems like a genuine response).
So, let’s ask the question then: If the Astros’ apology is not “f—ing good enough” for fans, then what is? This is the more interesting discussion to have. Gattis is the first Astros player, current or former, to appear to sound truly remorseful for his part in the whole thing. So what is the proper punishment?
A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow are not only both out of jobs, but they’re out of baseball — and understandably so. Carlos Beltran lost his job before he managed an inning with the Mets. Red Sox manager Alex Cora was also sent out on his butt. But the players, who supposedly ran the whole scheme, according to MLB, got off scot-free in the ordeal.
To be honest, that’s fine, because at the end of the day a manager has to manage because it’s his job. Whether that’s the lineup, the personalities or a sign-stealing scandal that MLB is having a hard time putting back in the bottle. But what would be good enough?
Would Gattis turn in his championship ring? Erase the title from existence? Suspensions for all the players on the team? Who knows? Clearly, Gattis doesn’t feel good about his role on a team that cheated.
Baseball, after all, was put in a near-impossible spot when it came to punishment for this. Vacating a title seems something empty in nature. Suspensions would be difficult to levy out fairly and evenly amongst players, especially if everyone was in on it.
But at least Gattis knows an apology isn’t good enough — even if the rest of the baseball world is still searching for what is.
Tom Brady has found a new home in Tampa Bay, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The 42-year-old, who signed a two-year, $50 million contract with the Buccaneers two weeks ago, is in the process of moving his family into a 30,000-square-foot waterfront mansion in St. Petersburg — built by Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter.
The quarterback is renting the home that features seven bedrooms, nine bathrooms, an entertainment room and a billiards room.
It (of course) comes with a pool and not one but two boat lifts providing access to Tampa Bay.
Another feature of the home that likely appealed to Brady? The improved privacy gate.
In 2017, Jeter received approval from the city to build an opaque gate for privacy, after he realized fans could see directly into the home from the street.
That’s good news for Brady, who will likely have plenty of fans flocking to get a glimpse of him and his wife Gisele Bündchen.
The White Tiger was eliminated from “The Masked Singer” on Wednesday, and it was revealed to be former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“I’ve always loved dancing and my dance moves were always one of a kind and I always felt like I was never on rhythm, so when I got asked to do ‘The Masked Singer,’ I knew I was in,” the retired NFL star said after being unmasked. “I wanted to do it. I wanted to learn how to sing and also I really wanted to learn how to dance.”
The three-time Super Bowl winner said a few of his former teammates recognized his dance moves.
“One or two of my teammates did contact me like, ‘Dude, that is definitely you. I know your moves, I’ve seen those moves in the locker room plenty of times,’” Gronkowski said.
Gronkowski thanked the panel of judges for the fun experience.
“Thank you guys,” he said. “I enjoyed every performance in front of you guys. I love you guys so much. I’m just so thankful to be here. Legends right in front of my eyes.”
Former Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch and ex-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow will fulfill their one-season suspensions for the team’s sign-stealing scandal even if no baseball is played in 2020, sources told ESPN’s Buster Olney on Thursday.
Hinch and Luhnow were given the one-year bans and subsequently fired in January following an investigation by Major League Baseball that confirmed the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based sign-stealing system during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season and during part of the 2018 regular season.
According to the wording from commissioner Rob Manfred’s decision, both punishments end “following the completion of the 2020 World Series.”
Sources told Olney that, because the suspensions are tied to the end of the 2020 postseason rather than a specific number of games, MLB will view Luhnow and Hinch as having served their discipline this year.
MLB said in January that further violations by Hinch and Luhnow would result in them being placed on MLB’s permanently ineligible list.
Along with the punishments for Hinch and Luhnow, the Astros also lost their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and were fined $5 million. Manfred said in January that he would not strip the Astros of their World Series title.
Last month, MLB announced that Opening Day had been pushed back to mid-May at the earliest because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league and players’ union also negotiated terms in March for the conditions needed for a return to play, with both sides expressing a willingness to stretch the season late into the 2020 calendar year if needed.
Former Texans and Dolphins running back Arian Foster sharply criticised Florida’s pandemic response on Wednesday as the state’s COVID-19 tally continued to rise at a staggering rate.
Foster used Twitter to call out Gov. Ron DeSantis for implementing a stay-at-home order after more than 6,000 people have become infected. Through a video highlight, Foster compared shutting things down now — after DeSantis refused to do so for weeks — to dunking in the final seconds of a basketball game while already down 50 points.
DeSantis has faced extreme pressure to limit movement in his state due to the pandemic, and his slow approach to the issue compared to other large states has prompted backlash .
The video Foster shared comes from the Nov. 15 meeting between Kansas and Monmouth. In the clip, Hawks player George Papas steals the ball and dunks on Kansas while trailing 110-55. He talked trash to the Jayhawks afterward, despite the lopsided score.
Foster — now a musical artist under the name “Bobby Feeno” — has always been outspoken about his beliefs, dating back to when he played in the NFL. He has publicly taken up causes relating to social justice and NFL head injuries .
He rushed for 6,527 yards and 54 touchdowns before retiring at the age of 30.
Saints coach Sean Payton casually dropped what could have been bombshell news on Tuesday when he said quarterback Drew Brees would play his final season in New Orleans in 2020.
Payton’s comments came via an interview with ESPN’s “Get Up!” in which he inadvertently said Brees “announced he’s coming back for his final season” while discussing Taysom Hill’s role with the team.
Payton walked back his comments during a Wednesday teleconference, saying he misspoke in regard to Brees’ future plans.
“I’m a big dummy yesterday,” Payton said on the call, referring to his “Get up!” interview. “I honestly don’t know if it’s last year. His plan is year by year.”
Brees recently agreed to a team-friendly, two-year deal worth $50 million, meaning he’s contracted with the Saints at least through 2021. But it’s no surprise that Payton has supported Hill as a potential heir to Brees in New Orleans. The 19-year veteran will play his 20th season at 41 years old.
The only question now is whether Payton actually misspoke, or if the 2020 season could be Brees’ final in the NFL.
With five months until the season is scheduled to begin, the NFL is planning to start the regular season on time in September and play a full 16-game schedule — including international games — in front of fans in 2020, league officials said in a conference call Tuesday.
The new coronavirus pandemic has shut down the NBA and NHL, delayed Opening Day for Major League Baseball and forced the NFL to plan on virtual workouts for their offseason program and a drastically reconfigured draft that will have teams, players and Commissioner Roger Goodell connected virtually.
But Jeff Pash, the NFL’s executive vice president, general counsel, said the league’s medical executives, who are consulting with the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network, have been shown models of the course of the pandemic in other countries and how different interventions have been effective. The NFL has the luxury of time to alter the season if projections change. But the message from the NFL was clear Tuesday: The information the league has right now has led it to focus on planning to start the season as scheduled. The schedule of games will likely be released on or around May 9.
In an hour-long conference call with team owners earlier on Tuesday, there was no discussion about shortening the season or changing the structure of the season, Pash said, although Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, told reporters the league is also "looking at all options" and "constantly contingency planning."
"All of our discussion, all of our focus, has been on a normal traditional season, starting on time, playing in front of fans, in our regular stadiums, and going through a full 16-game regular season and full set of playoffs," Pash said. "That’s our focus."
Earlier, Pash said: "That’s our expectation. Am I certain of that? I’m not certain I’ll be here tomorrow. But I’m planning on it, and in the same way, we’re planning on having a full season."
Almost everything else about the league has changed dramatically, though. Team facilities are closed. Free-agent and draft visits are taking place virtually. And while the offseason program has not officially been canceled, it has been suspended indefinitely and the league is considering options for how teams can have virtual workouts and classrooms. Offseason programs conclude with June minicamps and the league would have to take instruction from medical people about the safety of having players to report. The availability of widespread testing capabilities would be a factor before teams can reconvene. One top team executive said last week he does not believe players will be able to report to team facilities before training camps open late in the summer.
Also on Tuesday, Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice president, club business and league events, indicated that the draft, which will take place April 23-25, will be held virtually. Team executives would make their selections from remote locations — not team facilities — and would be required to abide by social distancing guidelines and allow no more than 10 people in a room, all separated by at least six feet each. Players, former players and even possibly fans would also be involved virtually. The draft will also be used, O’Reilly said, as a vehicle to raise money for those most affected by the pandemic.
Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008
It’s official. NFL owners have expanded their playoff field to 14 teams, formalizing a long-held aspiration nearly a decade in the making. The decision will change the complexion of the postseason, boost league revenues by nine figures annually and perhaps provide a new level of job security for coaches.
Why make this change now? Who will benefit, and who will be disadvantaged? Can an 8-8 team win the Super Bowl? Let’s take a closer look at the key questions.
Isn’t this a weird time to be fiddling with the postseason? Do we even know whether there will be a full regular season in 2020?
We don’t. But Tuesday’s vote was connected to the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which owners and players approved earlier this month.
The league was on the verge of implementing a 14-team playoff in 2014 but shelved the plan, presumably to use as a bargaining chip in negotiating for the next CBA. The CBA includes language for salary-cap calculation of revenue from extra playoff games and paved the way for owners to make Tuesday’s decision.
How is this going to work?
The NFL has added two wild-card spots. There will now be three wild-card teams in the NFC, and another three in the AFC, for a total of seven playoff teams per conference.
The resulting six wild-card games will be played in back-to-back tripleheaders during wild-card weekend, this year on Jan. 9 and 10. The No. 7 seeds will play the No. 2 seeds in that round, meaning that only the No. 1 seed will get a first-round bye.
That seems like a big deal for the No. 1 seed.
Yup, and a pretty bad deal for the No. 2 seed.
There is annual debate about the value of a bye, but the truth is, every Super Bowl participant for the past seven seasons has received one. The last team to make it that far without a bye is the 2012 Baltimore Ravens. For that reason, the No. 2 seed has probably been devalued to a greater degree than the value of the No. 1 seed has been magnified.
No. 2 seeds have won the past two Super Bowls, and a total of five times since the postseason format last changed with divisional realignment in 2002. Any fair analysis must acknowledge that the best teams are most likely to have the best regular-season records, and thus receive either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed most of the time. Objectively, though, the No. 2 seed will face a more difficult path to reach the Super Bowl — three wins instead of two — under this format.
Won’t this just water down the playoffs?
In some cases, yes. But over time, that could be balanced out by the inclusion of conventionally qualified teams that otherwise would have missed the cut.
If you apply the new format to the fields since the start of the 2002 season, which would cover 36 additional playoff teams, you find that nine 8-8 teams — and none with losing records — would have been No. 7 seeds. Over that same period, however, eight of the nine 10-6 teams that missed the postseason would have made it under the new format. (The 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers still wouldn’t have made it.)
Had this format existed last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) and Los Angeles Rams (9-7) would have been the No. 7 seeds.
Wouldn’t it be better for those teams to miss the playoffs than have an 8-8 team win the Super Bowl?
An 8-8 Super Bowl champion is always a possibility, as remote as it might be. But given the parity level of the NFL, there isn’t as much drop-off to the No. 7 seed as you might think.
When this proposal initially emerged in 2014, Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight rated the presumptive No. 7 seeds and compared them to the rest of the field. Those No. 7 seeds generally were on par with the No. 4 seed, the lowest-ranked division winner.
The chances of an “accidental champion” would increase, Paine found, if the NFL ever expanded to a 16-team field. But at the moment, that shift seems highly unlikely.
I still don’t get why this had to happen. What was wrong with the 12-team format?
It comes down to one word. It starts with an “m” and ends in a “y.”
Close, but no.
Bingo. The NFL has been operating a 12-team playoff field since 1990, when it added two wild-card teams to what had been a 10-team field from 1978 to 1989. It had previously used an eight-team field from 1970 to 1977.
Interest in the wild-card round has grown over the past 30 years, and in 2019 it averaged 30.5 million television viewers per game. Broadcasters and streaming services are lining up to bid for that type of audience.
During CBA negotiations, the NFL and NFLPA projected a total of $150 million in new annual revenues from broadcast rights and stadium revenue.
Will players also get more money?
Yes, in two ways. First, that $150 million will apply to the revenue calculation that determines the salary cap. In 2020, according to the CBA, players get 47% of such revenues.
Second, two more rosters of players will receive playoff shares. In 2020, the wild-card winning share equates to $33,000 per player. The losing share is $30,000.
What’s in it for coaches?
Simply put, NFL coaches are less likely to be fired when they make the playoffs.
During the previous playoff format, from 2002 to 2019, only four coaches were forced out of their jobs following a season when their team played at least one postseason game, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. They include:
Tennessee Titans coach Mike Mularkey (2017)
Denver Broncos coach John Fox (2014)
San Diego Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer (2006)
San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci (2002)
Owners could recalibrate their thinking over time, of course. An 8-8 regular-season record, combined with a loss in the wild-card round, might not be enough to save an otherwise doomed coach. But for now, coaches should view this expansion as a positive development.
In a typical year, the NFL likes to set its schedule release date for roughly a week before the NFL Draft. For obvious reasons, though, 2020 is not a typical year.
The coronavirus pandemic has either outright canceled or postponed almost all sporting events around the globe for the coming months. In that sense, the NFL was fortunate to be in its offseason when the outbreak reached the United States, but now the NFL schedule release — and what that schedule might look like when it is released — is a big question mark for America’s most popular sports league.
Below is what we know about the NFL’s plans for its 2020 schedule release. Though we don’t yet know the date on which the schedules will be announced, we do know the opponents for all 32 teams and, based on winning percentage from last season, the strength of schedule rankings.
NFL schedule release date 2020
When asked in late March whether it plans to release 2020 schedules on time (usually the week before the draft, which this year is April 23-25), the NFL told Sporting News it was not commenting on the record at that point, and “no specific date had been set yet.”
The league likes to release its complete schedule roughly a week before the draft in part because it’s an open window for media coverage. Yet in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic having cleared the sports calendar through the spring and into the summer, the NFL forcing its schedule release before the draft might not be necessary if media coverage and fan attention is what the league craves. May and June are wide open.
Another reason the NFL could consider pushing back its 2020 schedule release date is the doubt surrounding how that schedule will play out — and if it will play out at all. While there has been no official word on the status of the 2020 college and pro football seasons, late-summer sports like the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been impacted by the virus, and some like ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit have speculated publicly that there will be no NFL season.
“The easy answer and the hard answer are the same answer — which is it’s too soon to tell,” NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer said on Adam Schefter’s podcast on March 30 when asked whether there will be a 2020 NFL season. “I think we’re going to know a lot more in late May, early June.”
All NFL team facilities are currently shut down due to the pandemic, and offseason programs likely will be canceled. According to the New York Times, though, the league is still planning to schedule a 16-game season even if it’s delayed.
On a less important level, the NFL pushing back its schedule release date in 2020 would be welcomed by those who are tasked with creating the schedule. The difficult process takes months, and any extra time could help ensure fairness for all 32 teams as well as optimal prime-time lineups for the NFL’s broadcast partners.
Whether the NFL will provide that extra time is to be determined.
Who has the toughest NFL schedule in 2020?
New England Patriots (.537 opponents win percentage)
Thanks to the lowly Dolphins and the average-at-best Jets, the Patriots are dragged down by the 2019 records of their divisional opponents (44-52). But their rotational opponents in 2020 are tough.
New England draws Super Bowl-champion Kansas City in addition to first-place opponents Baltimore and Houston. And like everybody else in the AFC East, the Patriots have to play against the NFC West, one of if not the best division in football.
New England will have seven matchups with teams that won 10 or more regular-season games last year.
Who has the easiest NFL schedule in 2020?
Baltimore Ravens (.438 opponents win percentage)
Though the Ravens technically have the easiest schedule for 2020 in terms of opponents’ 2019 win percentage, chances are they won’t actually have the easiest schedule in 2020.
For one, we expect their division opponents in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati to improve upon the 32-64 mark they posted last season. Likewise, other teams on their schedule like the Giants, Eagles and Colts could end up with more wins this year. And yes, as a first-place team, Baltimore still has to play Kansas City.
With all that said, only three teams on the Ravens’ schedule won more than 10 regular-season games last year.
2020 NFL strength of schedule rankings
Even though we don’t know the specifics of the 2020 NFL schedule like dates and kickoff times, we do know all the matchups. So based on 2019 win percentages, we can determine the NFL strength of schedule rankings for 2020.
Below are those rankings, from the toughest schedule in New England to the easiest schedule in Baltimore.
2020 NFL schedule for all 32 teams
The opponents for each NFL team in 2020 were determined upon the conclusion of the 2019 regular season. The league’s scheduling formula guarantees all teams play each other on a rotating basis.
The NFL hasn’t changed its number of playoff teams in 30 years. With the new collective bargaining agreement in place, the 2020 season is set to usher in a brand-new era of the league postseason.
A vote of NFL owners is set to expand the playoff field from 12 to 14 teams. There would still be four division winners, but an extra wild-card team would be added in both the NFC and AFC. Only two teams, the top seeds in both conferences, would enjoy first-round byes.
The NFL has had the dozen playoff teams since the 1990 season, when it increased the field from 10 teams to 12 with three division winners and three wild-card teams in each conference. In 2002, when the league expanded to 32 teams, it adjusted to four division winners and two wild-card teams.
Why is the NFL doing this, and what are the pros and cons of the new format? Let’s break them all down.
Pro: Two more games and a more action-packed wild card weekend
The current 12-team playoff format features two teams on a bye in each conference, creating consecutive opening playoff double-headers on the first Saturday and Sunday after the regular season.
With 12 teams (six division winners, six wild-card teams) playing in the first round, the NFL can now give us back-to-back postseason triple-headers that resemble the usual progression of early afternoon, late afternoon and night games in the regular season.
Divisional playoff weekend is arguably the best NFL weekend now. Wild-card weekend would rule the roost in the new format.
Con: Two more games and a less relevant regular season
With the NFL having 12 of its 32 teams make the playoffs, that meant only 37.5 percent playing beyond the regular season. By increasing the playoff field to 14, the number jumps to 43.8 percent. That’s probably the ceiling, given 16 of 32 (50 percent) puts the league too close to the NHL (51.6 percent) and NBA (53.3) percent, or using the season to eliminate only half the teams.
Take last season for example. The Rams (9-7) would have been the last team in from the NFC, while the Steelers (8-8) would have been the last team in from the AFC. The Bears (8-8) and Cowboys (8-8) were the only other teams in the NFL at .500 or better.
The NFL is walking a fine line between competitive balance and watering down the accomplishments of teams such as the Packers (13-3) and Chiefs (12-4), who as strong No. 2 seeds under the proposed format would have been forced to play the Rams and Steelers, with home field being the only advantage shown for their far superior efforts.
Adding playoff teams always cheapens the regular season to some degree. College Football Playoff enthusiasts would agree. In the FBS, however, a miniscule 3 percent of the teams make the playoffs, and expanding to eight teams would put it at only 6 percent. The NFL getting close to half the field making it is on the brink of saturation when multiple-game series aren’t involved in each round.
Note that in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament, 68 teams do have a chance. But that’s still only 19.6 percent of Division I teams. The NFL is pushing past double that number.
Pro: More teams involved in the playoff race through Week 17
With that said, we know what an extra wild-card team in each league has meant for MLB, generating a new kind of excitement in September. The NFL equivalent of that is the one-month playoff push in December, the time when NFL fans are obsessed with the playoff picture and its many permutations.
Had the Steelers made the playoffs last year at 8-8, the Jets, Colts, Broncos and Raiders, who all finished 7-9, would have approached the final month differently knowing they had real postseason chances. The Rams, Cowboys and Bears would have been joined by the Falcons and Buccaneers in a more competitive final surge.
So although there would be only 14 playoff teams in the new format, roughly 20 teams would remain in viable playoff contention through the final few weeks.
Con: More mediocre teams making the playoffs
You know how it is in the NHL and NBA. Some average teams make the field only to quickly become as irrelevant as they were in the regular season. Did we really need to see the Chiefs play the offensively challenged Steelers, too, on their way to winning Super Bowl 54? Also, given how Pittsburgh limped down the stretch, did it even deserve the opportunity?
The danger here, unlike in the NHL and NBA, is that anything can happen in one game, while over the course of a best-of-seven series, anomalous upsets are less likely. So whether the Chiefs had either blown out or lost to the Steelers, it would have felt weird that they even had a chance to share the same playoff field.
Pro: More potential for teams overcoming stronger schedules
Not all 16-game slates are created equal. Some teams have distinct advantages based on the rotation of divisions they play outside their own, as well as the teams that finished in the same place as them the previous season.
Having an extra playoff wild card provides a little leeway for a team navigating through a higher degree of difficulty.
Con: More potential for teams taking advantage of weaker schedules
The flip side is that extra playoff team in each conference adds one more layer to to the built-in parity parameters of the schedule.
Consider that with only one bye seed in each conference, more surefire playoff teams will be less motivated to play their regulars in the final weeks. That will open the door to a few more non-competitive games that also inflate the wild-card resumes of potential No. 7 seeds.
Pro: More incentive to fight for the No. 1 seeds
Speaking of which, the No. 1 seed will carry a new level of significance. Think of how the Chiefs reacted when they were able to steal that No. 2 seed and first-round bye from the Patriots in Week 17. That was huge for their Super Bowl 54 run, as they got a much-needed extra week of rest and ended up playing consecutive home games with the Ravens being upset in the divisional playoffs.
The single bye format forces a team to play with less margin for error, knowing only one strong playoff team in each conference can have the ultimate advantage of both home field and a bye.
In the NFC, the 49ers’ big win over the Seahawks in Week 17 earned them No. 1 vs. No. 5. That was a monstrous development that fueled their run, while the Seahawks were dusted in the divisional playoffs. The top seed in the new format would become more of a golden ticket, with No. 2 dropping all the way down to general admission.
Con: Less incentive to fight for any other seed
NFL teams that have poor chances to post a conference-best record won’t be as motivated to change their seeding. Being a No. 2 is not much different from being a No. 4 anymore. The same thing goes for No. 5 through No. 7, as they all will be playing road games in the first round regardless.
There’s a chance for the competitive fire to be doused before the playoffs ahead of it being reignited. So there might be bit of a sacrifice on some level for the teams not fighting to get into the tournament late, but the NFL likely will be fine trading that for greater drama once the tournament begins and the stakes are raised.