WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – On the day they came to apologize for their past actions, the 10 holdover members of the 2017 Houston Astros each drove past a giant, three-dimensional Astros logo on a grassy berm outside their stadium, below which were the words, "2017 World Series Champions." They walked through hallways decorated with framed, 3-foot-high photos of their most glorious moments.
And when the moment came when the Astros had to stand in front of the media and put their remorse on display, the Astros did so in tones that veered from scripted and mechanical to heartfelt and honest. Without ever saying the words "scheme" or "sign-stealing" or "cheated," they copped to the basics: They had made bad choices. They had broken Major League Baseball's rules. They were sorry.
"The reality is, we are remorseful," shortstop Carlos Correa said. "We feel sorry. I don't even want to think about what happened back then, because it was straight-up wrong."
But if the Astros' one-day apology tour, held Thursday at their spring training complex, felt unsatisfying to an outsider, it was in part because of the invisible line the Astros refused to cross. They would admit what they did — in stealing signs from opposing catchers using a center field camera and a video monitor — was wrong. Some would even acknowledge they gained an advantage through it.
But they would accept no insinuation that their 2017 championship was in any way tainted.
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion, and in my opinion it's not," left fielder Josh Reddick said. "The title is here in Houston to stay."
Astros owner Jim Crane, in a brief news conference that preceded the player availability in the clubhouse, set the tone for this stance. It was Crane who, in the wake of MLB's Jan. 13 investigative report into the electronic sign-stealing scheme the Astros were found to have used in 2017 and 2018, took the league's one-year suspensions of manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow one giant step further by firing both.
On Thursday, Crane took a defensive stance when questions turned to the legitimacy of Houston's title.
"Our opinion," Crane said, "is that this didn't impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series and we'll leave it at that."
Crane also defended the system of discipline, as meted out both by MLB and Crane himself, that fell squarely on the team's brain trust, but no one else.
When asked whether players should have been disciplined for their roles, Crane said: "Our players should not be punished. There are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from their leaders."
Crane's absolution of everyone except those who have already paid for the Astros' sins underscored the glaring limits of the apologies offered.
They said they were remorseful, but couldn't say whether they felt remorse as the scheme itself was occurring.
"I think everyone learned a lot from this," third baseman Alex Bregman said. But what he did learn, he was asked? Bregman stammered, then offered a vague word salad. It gave the distinct impression the Astros were not remorseful so much for the cheating they perpetrated, but rather that they had been caught.