By now, even the most casual of baseball fans have heard just about every detail of the Astros sign stealing scandal, from video cameras and trash cans to the alleged (and subsequently disproven) buzzers.
Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers was the primary whistleblower that initiated The Athletic’s report on the controversy, which led to MLB’s investigation and its findings. Fiers’ courageous effort to hold the Astros accountable was bold and in the best interests of baseball’s well-being and integrity. Most players would not have taken the steps that Fiers did in fear of the backlash that would certainly follow (and sure enough, it did).
Yet, it should be surprising to absolutely no one who is familiar with Mike Fiers that he would be thrust directly into Major League Baseball’s spotlight. His career numbers are not spectacular (4.02 ERA across 205 games), but a deeper dive into the history of Fiers reveals a fascinating career filled with drama and spectacle.
Fiers was born in Hollywood, Florida in June of 1985. He was not exactly a highly-touted prospect coming out of college, as he was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft. However, it is remarkable that he was even drafted by a Major League team, as he faced unthinkable adversity that nearly ended his playing career.
In 2008, Fiers was driving from his home state of Florida back to the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky. He had decided to stay in Florida late, and was making the trek across the country in the middle of the night. He did not make it to Orlando before he fell asleep at the wheel, and was launched out of his vehicle into a guardrail on the side of the road after crashing into the median.
Looking back on the terrifying incident, Fiers told the SF Chronicle that he was “just glad I was alive, and once I knew I could walk, I knew I would be able to come back from it.” He suffered a series of injuries from the crash, including a dislocated leg, multiple fractures of his back, and one of his hip.
Fiers’ unwavering confidence and determination helped lead him to a full recovery.
After he was drafted in 2009, Fiers made his Major League debut in 2011 at age 26. His first full season came in 2012, in which he started 22 games and recorded a 3.74 ERA (3.10 FIP).
Fiers was back in the minor leagues in 2013, but was once again called up to the big league club in May of the same season. Fiers’ decision to accept his promotion was not as simple as one might have expected.
At the time, his mother Linda Korman was essentially on her deathbed due to a long battle with an autoimmune disease called Lupus.
Fiers was willing to decline his invitation to pitch for the Brewers in order to stay with his mother at her home in Florida, but she told her son instead to follow his dream. Fiers would join the Brewers in Cincinnati after receiving his mother’s blessing. Korman died later that year.
Fiers’ name graced baseball headlines in 2014, when on September 11th, he drilled star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton in the face with a fastball. The then Miami Marlins’ superstar was knocked to the ground after the 88 MPH offering nailed him square in the cheek. Fiers immediately put his hands over his head as a clear indication that there was no intent behind the pitch; as a matter of unfortunate circumstances he proceeded to also plunk Reed Johnson, who was the pinch hitter for the injured Stanton. The entire ordeal sparked a benches-clearing war of words between the Brewers and the Marlins, and while Fiers was not to blame for the incident, he was right in the center of it.
As it turned out, the hatchet was not quite buried after that fateful 2014 contest. Memories of that day came fresh into focus in 2018, when Stanton and Fiers met again. Stanton was now with the New York Yankees, and Fiers with the Detroit Tigers. Fiers, bold as he is, decided to once again pitch inside to the 2017 NL MVP. Fiers clipped Stanton on the arm. Dirty looks and presumably some colorful language were exchanged between the two men, but the conflict between the Yankees and Tigers did not go much further – although these two clubs did have a history of bad blood.
Stanton finally got his revenge on Fiers in the later innings of that very same game. Stanton sent a hanging Fiers curveball into orbit, and took his time getting out of the batters’ box. He flipped his bat emphatically as he looked directly out to Fiers on the mound.
Before he was a Tiger, Fiers was traded to the Houston Astros in the famous Carlos Gómez trade that very nearly involved Wilmer Flores and the New York Mets instead. The deal with the Astros, which actually did happen, had massive ramifications that were not yet evident at the time. In return for Fiers and Gómez, the Brewers received All-Star closer Josh Hader, among other prospects. Hader has been key to the Brewers’ sustained success during the last few seasons, and it is highly unlikely that they would have accomplished as much as they have without him. It figures that Fiers was directly linked to a trade that has had such a significant impact in the years since 2015.
Fiers was with the Astros from the second half of 2015 through the 2017 season, but he struggled mightily in 2016 (4.48 ERA) and 2017 (5.22 ERA). However, Astros fans will always remember one game in particular of Fiers’ tenure with their club.
On August 21st of 2015, Fiers powered through a 134-pitch no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He recorded the final out by blowing a fastball past star third-baseman Justin Turner; he then threw his glove into the air in celebration and embraced catcher Jason Castro in a wonderful moment of euphoria. It was a truly incredible performance in which Fiers struck out ten batters over the course of nine no-hit frames.
Despite his poor performances in 2016 and 2017, Fiers was able to secure a one-year, $6 million deal with the Tigers prior to 2018. His aforementioned time in Detroit was eventful, yet brief. On August 6th of 2018 he was traded to the Oakland A’s.
Fiers has been a much-needed steady presence in the Oakland rotation (and an entertaining grower of unique facial hair) as the A’s have reached the postseason in each of the last two seasons. On May 7th of 2018, Fiers joined an exclusive club that included the likes of Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, and Cy Young. The A’s starter tossed his second-career no-hitter that night versus the Cincinnati Reds, and became just the 35th pitcher ever to record more than one no-no.
This time, the final out came on a strikeout of third-baseman Eugenio Suárez with a nasty Fiers curveball that started in the strike-zone and vanished into the dirt. Fiers’ special performance had an extra layer of meaning for the right-hander, as he was able to honor his late mom Linda Korman just a few days before Mother’s Day.
All in all, when looking back on all of the twists and turns of Mike Fiers’ career, it does not come as a shock that he would be at the epicenter of one of the biggest scandals in the history of the sport.