The Houston Astros wronged a lot of people, in a lot of ways.
But the damage they did to Mike Bolsinger – to his career and to his whole life – was particularly harsh, and the former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher wants them held accountable. Bolsinger filed a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, accusing the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations.
Yes, Bolsinger is seeking unspecified damages, but they’re not all for himself. He wants the Astros to forfeit the roughly $31 million in bonuses from their ill-gotten World Series title, and for the money to go to charities in Los Angeles focused on bettering kids’ lives, as well as to create a fund for retired baseball players who need financial assistance.
“There’s a message to be sent to youth out there. Especially athletes, more specifically baseball players,” Bolsinger told USA TODAY Sports. “It was awesome to (grow up and) watch game played the right way. We’ve kind of drifted from that. It’s something we can really express to these kids: You don’t have to cheat to get to where you want to go.
“This kind of stuff doesn’t need to happen.”
You can be forgiven if Bolsinger’s name doesn’t immediately ring a bell. Or if you know little beyond that he was the pitcher the Astros lit up for four runs, four hits and three walks in a third of an inning – 29 pitches, to be exact – in an Aug. 4, 2017, game in Houston.
Bolsinger is the quintessential journeyman, a pitcher who was drafted in the 15th round out of Arkansas and spent four-plus seasons in the minors before making his major-league debut in 2014. Over the next four seasons, he bounced between the majors and Class AAA, playing for three teams.
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By the time he faced the Astros, he was 29 and had recently been converted to a reliever. He hoped to pitch well enough in the second half of the season to carve out a regular roster spot for himself as a reliever.
By the time that nightmare of a night was over, Bolsinger had been demoted. He has not pitched in the majors since.
“I don’t know if I’ve had a worse outing in my professional career,” Bolsinger said. “I remember saying, ‘It was like they knew what I was throwing. They’re laying off pitches they weren’t laying off before. It’s like they knew what was coming.’ That was the thought in my head.
“I felt like I didn’t have a chance.”
Bolsinger was right. The Astros DID know what was coming.
Major League Baseball announced last month that the Astros had used the video replay feed to steal opposing teams’ signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, tipping off their batters to off-speed pitches by banging on a garbage can. Bolsinger is not a flame-thrower; he throws off-speed pitches that depend on catching batters off guard.
According to the lawsuit, filed by Ben Meiselas of Geragos & Geragos in Los Angeles on Monday, an Astros fan who wrote a web application to document every instance of trash-can banging found that the most bangs took place in that Aug. 4, 2017, game. And the most bangs in the game came when Bolsinger was on the mound. According to the lawsuit, there were bangs on 12 of his 29 pitches.
“The Houston Astros team members and managers were bragging how good their offense was and how productive they were, and it was at the hands of cheating,” Meiselas said. “And the consequence was Mike.”
Bolsinger spent the rest of the season in Class AAA, going 1-0 with a save and a 1.93 ERA. But he was not among the Blue Jays’ September call-ups, and wasn’t offered a new contract, by the Jays or any other team.
“I was an older guy. They had younger guys to call up,” Bolsinger said. “Let’s say that (Astros game) doesn’t happen … I probably don’t get sent down. But at that point, they probably lost faith in me and were over it.”
With no interest from MLB teams, Bolsinger went to Japan. His wife was pregnant during his first season with the Chiba Lotte Marines, and their son was a baby during the second. They had no family in Japan, and didn’t speak the language.
Bolsinger remembers being afraid of not being able to get help if his wife needed medical attention while she was pregnant, or if something happened to their son. He had a translator when he was with the team, but the translator lived almost an hour away. His wife was often on her own.
“It’s a different world. A different country, obviously,” Bolsinger said. “To not have family around, or anyone around, it would just be me and her and our first kid, that was one of the most scary times in my life.”
Meanwhile, the Astros won the World Series in 2017 and reached the AL Championship Series in 2018. The success generated millions for the team in ticket sales and merchandise, to say nothing of bonuses and bigger contracts for their players.
Even after the sign-stealing scheme was discovered, the only Astros player who faced any kind of discipline was Carlos Beltran, who lost his job as manager of the New York Mets. Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was an Astros coach in 2016 and ’17, also were fired.
As for Bolsinger, he will be at home when pitchers and catchers begin reporting this week. Despite going 18-8 with a 3.87 ERA the last two seasons in Japan, he still doesn’t have a job.
“I don’t think the punishment has fit the crime,” he said. “And let’s be honest, all these guys are going to get managing jobs again. … Guys like us that were cheated? I don’t have a job. I’m not playing.”
Bolsinger paid a price for the Astros’ deceitful ways. It’s only fair they do the same.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.