Joe Kelly's enduring animus toward Houston Astros players has more to do with how they handled the sign-stealing investigation than the actual cheating itself, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher said in his first extensive interview since he sparked a benches-clearing confrontation last month in Houston.
In Kelly's eyes, the Houston players, who received immunity from discipline in return for cooperating with a Major League Baseball investigation, sacrificed their managers, coaches and team executives, who took the hit for the players' transgressions.
Kelly was suspended for eight games and fined after throwing a ball near the head of Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and then taunting shortstop Carlos Correa, which prompted the benches to clear during a July 28 game in Houston. Kelly appealed the discipline, but MLB reduced the suspension to five games.
The "Big Swing" episode was taped earlier in August, before MLB heard Kelly's appeal of his suspension.
"The people who took the fall for what happened is nonsense," Kelly said. "Yes, everyone is involved. But the way that [sign-stealing system] was run over there was not from coaching staff. ... They're not the head boss in charge of that thing. It's the players. So now the players get the immunity, and all they do is go snitch like a little b----, and they don't have to get fined, they don't have to lose games."
Kelly was not a member of the Dodgers in 2017, when the Astros beat Los Angeles to win the World Series. But in 2018, Kelly pitched for Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who had been Houston's bench coach. Cora was implicated in the findings of the sign-stealing investigation and was suspended for the 2020 season, along with Houston manager A.J. Hinch, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and veteran slugger Carlos Beltran, who had been hired to manage the New York Mets in 2020.
Cora, Hinch, Luhnow and Beltran all lost their jobs following the release of the findings.
"When you take someone's livelihood ... to save your own ass, that's what I don't like," Kelly said. "Cheating? They cheated. Everyone knows they're cheaters. They know they're cheaters. It's over. That's been there, done that. But now they mess it up by ruining other people's lives, so they f---ed it up twice. ... When you taint someone's name to save your own name, this is one of the worst things that you could probably do. ... That really friggin' bugs me. I think I'll be irritated forever."
Kelly spoke of how much he cared about Cora, and how Cora's life has been changed by the fallout. Cora would love to explain what happened, Kelly said, "but he hasn't, because he's a respectable man. So when [the Astros] lie" -- by deflecting blame onto staffers -- "that doesn't sit right with me."
"Maybe they have called [Cora] and said, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' Or called Luhnow and said, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' Or called Hinch, and Beltran. ... If they had said, 'Hey, I'm super-scared, I didn't know what to do, I didn't want to lose money, I had to rat.' ... Grow a pair of balls and say that."
Kelly said he didn't want to talk to the Astros players, "because they're not respectable men to me."
As for his suspension, Kelly said he thought it was "crazy" in the face of what happened on the field. Kelly didn't hit anybody, and wasn't ejected or even warned by plate umpire Alfonso Marquez. "It blows my mind, still," Kelly said. "It's so upsetting."
Kelly said MLB's contention that he incited the Astros to leave their dugout with his actions is "completely bull----."
"I socially distanced. I walked away. I didn't get close, and I followed all the guidelines of the CDC, and people on the other side (the Astros) didn't," he said. "... They walked out of their dugout, walked toward us. Carlos Correa f---ing spit at our team. I don't know if it was [at] me. He spit out of his mouth. ... This guy walks over to our dugout and then spits, while I follow all the rules, and I get eight games.
"They have a manager [Dusty Baker] on their side, verbatim, yelling at me, 'Get your little skinny ass on the mound.' So my cuss words get eight games, and his cuss words get zero? That makes complete sense, right? Welcome to planet earth. A debacle."
During his conversation on the podcast with Kelly, Stripling said he works out in the same facility as Houston outfielder George Springer in the offseason, but the two haven't really interacted -- and Stripling hasn't decided how he wants to interact with Astros players who were part of the team that was determined to have cheated.
Stripling said the apologies the Astros gave in spring training -- perceived by many players as insincere -- inflamed the Dodgers' feelings. "It just lit a fire under us all over again," Stripling said. "As a team that got beat by that team, you'll never get over it. You'll absolutely never get over it."
Kelly distinguished between what the Astros were determined to have done in 2017 -- real-time conveyance of signs, pitch to pitch -- and what the Red Sox, Yankees and other teams did in pre- and postgame video studies, which he called "fair game."
"Giving instant feedback on signs is not fair game," Kelly said.
After striking out Correa on July 28, Kelly yelled at Correa, who responded. Then Kelly made what he called a "boo-hoo face" at the Astros shortstop. Kelly told Stripling that when he complains to his wife, she'll make that face at him, to curtail his whining.
"When Carlos was tripping back at me," Kelly said, "the boo-hoo face felt right, because it just sounded like he was complaining. I was like, 'Ohhhh, boo-hoo.' For me, it sounded like a bunch of whining, and I know exactly what my wife feels like.
"It just felt right in the moment. It was spur of the moment; it's not like you game-plan for that kind of thing. ... It was my interpretation of him acting like a child at that point, and I wanted to give him a little child's face."