Yu Darvish joined the litany of current players speaking out against the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal when he told reporters last week that perhaps Carlos Correa “shouldn’t talk” right now. More than just a general expression of playing the game the right way, Darvish was directly impacted by the scheme during his time with the Dodgers. And while he was still able to net a decent contract in the aftermath, several other pitchers weren’t as fortunate.
There’s also some cultural context to Darvish’s criticism, as he explained to Dylan Hernández of the Los Angeles Times. Hernandez seems to have established great trust with the pitcher and has been responsible for other very candid interviews, including a piece from 2018 in which the pitcher revealed the disappointment he felt for the way things ended in LA. This one was no less introspective and worth your while, so go check out the full text if you have time.
“Wouldn’t the organization be disbanded?” Darvish asked rhetorically about the results of such a scandal in Japan’s NPB. “The organization would be disbanded, right? Well, without a doubt, the team would be stripped of its title.”
Before you go thinking Darvish is recommending that Rob Manfred demote the Astros to the minors and then contract them as part of his nefarious scheme to strip MiLB for parts, it’s best to understand where he’s coming from. Yes, he did previously compare the Astros to an Olympic athlete who would have been stripped of their metal for cheating, but this hypothetical case is more about how Japanese society views all manner of impropriety.
As Hernández wrote, people accused of infidelity, tax evasion, or other transgressions we almost take for granted in America are often shunned by Japan society. In other words, you may not have the opportunity to make up for the errors in your ways.
“I always felt uncomfortable about that,” Darvish said. “I don’t think that’s a good custom. Living in this world, we all just want to be happy. And I don’t think it is right to be denied that opportunity over a single mistake.
“When I saw the generosity of spirit of the people who live in America and their willingness to give second chances, it had a very wonderful effect on me.”
Darvish has experienced that forgiveness firsthand in two seasons with the Cubs, though it took a while for a lot of fans to come around and warm up to him. What many perceived as a fake injury that was nothing more than the manifestation of mental weakness was eventually revealed to be a stress reaction that required corrective surgery after the 2018 season. Then Darvish had to overcome some mechanical flaws that led to excessive walks early in 2019 to become the staff ace down the stretch.
But when you really dig down, it was his poor performance in the 2017 World Series and the subsequent revelation that the Astros had been cheating that broke the dam of perception. Well, for the most part, since it’s impossible to completely eliminate the hecklers who compare his record to his salary and conflate that with a legitimate assessment of his performance.
That has led to Darvish battling internet trolls on a daily basis, which he actually seems to enjoy a great deal. I know I take pleasure from seeing him dunking on people like Aaron Gordon. Even if it gets a little tedious for Darvish, it’s got to be a helluva lot better than what he had to go through as a young pitcher in Japan.
When he was an 18-year-old rookie with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, he was photographed smoking in a gambling parlor. The minimum age for smoking and gambling in Japan is 20.
The news was widely reported. Darvish’s reputation suffered.
As part of his punishment, Darvish was ordered by a team official to write an essay reflecting on his mistake. He didn’t have a problem with that. What he did have a problem with was being told to write a different essay on the same subject every day for a month. [emphasis mine]
I can’t completely relate, though spending an entire winter covering each new Kris Bryant trade rumor or what Joe Maddon had to say about his old team has a similar feel. The moral of the story is that Darvish knows a little something about facing myriad forms of backlash from his missteps, fair or otherwise.
He also seems to be far more comfortable with himself, which should allow him to continue the trend we saw as he improved throughout the course of last season. A lot of that was being able to trust his right arm, which wasn’t the case last year when triceps soreness led to him being a little more cautious early in the year. Darvish reported on Twitter that he’s already up to 96 mph on the fastball, an excellent sign at this early stage of spring.
Troll this man on Twitter and underestimate him on the mound at your own risk.