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Kurkjian: Penalties for Astros were “harsh but necessary”

ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian appeared at UNM baseballs’s First Pitch Banquet last Feb. 8, and he conversed with Alex Bregman’s dad Sam Bregman, right, and UNM baseball coach Ray Birmingham, among others. Kurkjian returns to speak at the event on Friday. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

For the second straight year, ESPN major league baseball reporter Tim Kurkjian will be a guest speaker at UNM baseball’s “First Pitch Banquet.”

The sold-out banquet is Friday at 5 p.m. at The Event Center at Sandia Golf Club. It will also feature former La Cueva High and UNM standout Jordan Pacheco and honor the 2000 UNM Mountain West championship team.

But Kurkjian, who has been covering baseball since 1981 and has worked for ESPN since 1998, is the highlight.

“I had a great time last year. We had a bunch of laughs,” Kurkjian said. “I love (UNM coach Ray Birmingham); he’s so energetic. I met a bunch of the players and that was great. I hadn’t been to New Mexico in a long time. I had some great Mexican food. It was tremendous. I guess they liked me enough to invite me back.”

Kurkjian’s appearance comes less than two weeks after MLB hammered the Houston Astros after an investigation into the team’s use of technology to steal signs in 2017. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were each suspended for one year and then fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

“The punishment was harsh, but I think it was necessary,” Kurkjian said. “This was a problem in the game. I’m a big believer in sign-stealing. I really enjoy the gamesmanship that goes along with it as long you do it the right way: with your own eyes and ears. When you throw technology in, all bets are off, and that’s clearly cheating and there’s no place in the game for it. I don’t think the commissioner had any choice but to drop down some harsh penalties, and let’s hope this is the start of cleaning up that aspect of the game.”

Days after the Astros’ punishments came down, two Houston players – Jose Altuve and Albuquerque native Alex Bregman – faced allegations that they wore devices to tip them off to pitches as part of the scandal.

Both players denied the allegations, and MLB said there was no evidence to support the claim.

“Guilt by association is indeed guilt,” Kurkjian said. “Alex Bregman in 2017 was just a rookie, and there’s no way a rookie comes in and says ‘No, I don’t want to be a part of this.’ He can look the other way but only so much. I don’t know what happened; he has to explain that to us and I’m just hoping the Astros will be as honest as possible on this.”

The Boston Red Sox are also under investigation for electronic sign-stealing in 2018, and manager Alex Cora has already parted ways with the club.

Carlos Beltran, hired as New York Mets manager in November, was out as skipper on Jan. 16 after he was the only player named in MLB’s investigation into the Astros.

“I’ve covered baseball for 40 years and I’ve never seen four days like those four days where three managers and a general manager were fired,” Kurkjian said. “It’s a real black eye for the game and it really needs to be addressed and it has been. Now we need some contrition on the part of anyone who is involved in this, and hopefully we can move along from this.”

So far, players, including Bregman, have been mum on the subject, including at his team’s fanfest Saturday in Houston. Kurkjian hopes that changes soon.

“I wanted to wait and see exactly what Alex Bregman did and what everybody did,” Kurkjian said. “We’re going to need to hear that from the Astros and find out exactly what happened here. And we might not.”

The Astros cheating scandal was an embarrassment for baseball, but how does the league make sure it doesn’t happen again?

“If we have to start turning off all the monitors and all the TVs in and around the dugout when the game starts and limit the technology, you can count me in,” Kurkjian said. “This is something baseball doesn’t need.”

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