Major League Baseball’s biggest scandal in over 100 years has rocked the sports world, only to leave a union divided, and a commissioner under fire
Las Vegas bookmaker William Hill opened two prop bets on Monday. Each option pertained to how many times a Houston Astros baseball player will be hit by a pitch in the upcoming 2020 season.
The over/under total opened up at 83.5 times. The core four ‘Stros (Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer) are the odds on favorites to be plunked the most. All because the 2017 World Series Champions are guilty.
Yes, the team is guilty of cheating on the game’s biggest stage.
Players, coaches, and team officials collaborated in a scheme to steal the opposing team’s signals from the catcher to the pitcher. Using highly-sophisticated technology, the team placed a camera in the outfield wall that ultimately transmitted those images to the Astros’ replay room. There, the images were analyzed. Patterns were predicted and broken down in order to discover what type of pitch an opponent may be throwing.
That information was then relayed to the Astros’ dugout, where teammates conveyed each next pitch to the batter at the plate. This was done in the most unsophisticated, archaic way possible. Like a bunch of the neanderthals, the individuals involved took bats and banged on trash cans in order to pass along what pitch was coming next.
Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers made allegations to journalists Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich of the Athletic in November 2019, that the 2017 World Series championship team in Houston had cheated.
Although he was criticized publicly, many in the baseball community defended his move. Those supporters felt that his actions were necessary to preserve the integrity of the game. As a result, Fiers became the most controversial player in the big leagues.
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman says, “If it wasn’t for Mike Fiers, no one maybe ever would have known. This is a warning to anybody that’s doing anything, in any arena that’s wrong, that the truth usually always comes out. If people are doing stuff that is wrong or against the rules, there are no secrets, it usually comes out eventually; that story does get told. That’s a warning sign for people when they make those choices going into it. There’s a big price to be paid for it.”
Although he isn’t necessarily a guy you can trust to keep your deepest, darkest secrets…
Mike Fiers is an individual that can be counted on to do the right thing, whether-or-not it makes him the most hated guy in a locker room.
After conducting a very thorough investigation, Manfred and Major League Baseball revealed their findings in a detailed report. Subsequently, the Astros were determined to have cheated in 2017 during their World Series run. As a result, Houston received $5 Million dollars worth of fines and was also forced to vacate their first and second-round draft picks in 2020, and 2021.
Not only that, but Manfred made the decision to suspend Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for the entire 2020 season. This move ultimately led to both of them losing their jobs.
At the time the cheating took place, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets rookie Manager Carlos Beltran were assistant coaches on Hinch’s staff.
During the investigation, both were reported as being heavily involved in the cheating scheme. For their participation, both the Mets and Red Sox organizations decided to part ways with Beltran and Cora, with the latter being the subject of a similar investigation focused on the 2018 Boston World Series team.
Three managers, one GM, a couple of briefcases full of Benjamins’ and Houston’s immediate future were all gone. Just like that…poof…into thin air.
Despite the Astros player’s guilt in the matter, one that MLB deemed a mostly “player-driven” enterprise, commissioner Manfred decided to bypass punishment and grant immunity to the guilty players in exchange for their testimony and cooperation.
The Spring Training Buzz
Ever since pitchers and catchers reported last week, the discussions in winter camps have mainly revolved around the controversy. Media members have primarily focused on the scandal throughout the past few days and opposing players are visibly upset. Meanwhile, Houston seems to be showing little remorse for their deceptive actions.
Many rule-abiding MLB players believe that the cheating players should have been held primarily responsible by Manfred. Instead, that absence of player accountability has led many to believe the Astros’ players are getting away with their crimes against baseball. As a result, many of those do-gooders have become infuriated and are delivering heated remarks towards the guilty in abundant fashion.
Reds Pitcher Trevor Bauer said Houston Astros players are “hypocrites” and “cheaters”. Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs believes that the team should be stripped of their World Series title, just like when an athlete in the Olympics loses their gold medal for cheating.
The most surprising testament came when Angels OF Mike Trout said, “It’s sad for baseball. It’s tough. They cheated. I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything.”
Despite being the hands-down, best player in the show…Trout is normally very reserved and quiet. Later he added, “I lost some respect for some guys.”
Those players were not alone in their disappointment. Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis delivered his reaction to the scandal and league’s response by saying, “It’s anger. I feel like every single guy over there needs a beating. It’s wrong. They’re messing with people’s careers.”
Finally, New York Yankees star Aaron Judge (2017’s AL MVP Runner-Up to Altuve) lent his take and elaborated on Houston’s seven-game defeat of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The victory followed the Yanks’ ouster at the hands of Houston in the ALCS. He said, “I just don’t think it holds any value with me. You cheated and you didn’t earn it.”
Apologies Appearing To Lack Remorse
Astros Owner Jim Crane single-handedly made a fool of himself during a press conference when contradicting himself. First, he apologized for the incident saying, “I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened. I want to repeat this will never happen again on my watch.”
Moments later, the incompetent owner did a complete one-eighty when he answered a reporter’s question by saying, “our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game.”
What exactly do you mean by that Jeff? The blunder went straight over my head. Would you care to further elaborate on your stance Mr. Crane? Last I checked, you’re sorry? My only hope is that you are sorry for your actions, not the simple fact that you got caught.
When asked if he should specifically be held accountable, the owner responded by saying “No, I don’t think I should be held accountable.”
Everything starts from the top down when you’re a leader. You take responsibility for what happens under your watch. In this case, Crane did instruct Luhnow to make sure Houston was behaving and being compliant with league rules.
Immediately following his suspension and dismissal in January, the recently departed Hinch felt it was necessary to defend his innocence at the same time he apologized for his role or lack thereof in the scheme. “While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry.”
Honestly, it’s pretty much the same thing as saying, “I’m sorry. But ….”
Two members of the core four touched base on their roles in the sign-stealing scheme. First, Bregman provided evidence confirming the scheme was player based. He mentioned that “no one put us up to this. We did it. All of us, not one person made us do anything.”
Then, it was the blunt Correa whose take may have resonated the most with fans, opposing players, and media. Being straightforward and blunt, he said, “It was definitely an advantage.”
Apologies by the many Astros seem to lack the same, unclear sense of direction. After listening to the condemned speak multiple times, it becomes increasingly obvious that many of their apologies lack any remorse for their wrongdoing.
To me, it sounds like this team of disgraced cheaters would do it all over again in a heartbeat if they had to.
Apologies Not Accepted
The rest of Major League Baseball, specifically members of the players union have kept a close eye on the Astros since their ascension to spring training. It’s clear that Houston’s 2017 version of the infamous Chicago Black Sox team of 1919 has found themselves in quite the conundrum. They’ve managed to do so at their opponents’ expense.
A majority of the opposing players interviewed have been unmerciful in their takes. Instead, those players have decided to further condemn their peers.
Many of the games biggest stars have managed to continue expressing their distaste for the ‘Stros, while at the same time solidifying their positions as critics. “I thought the apologies were whatever. I thought Jim Crane’s was weak. I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving ’em immunity. I mean, these guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an MVP from [Aaron] Judge in ’17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us,” said Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger.
When fielding questions regarding Bellinger’s position, it was Correa who blasted the Dodger while taking the lead on Houston’s defense. “When [Bellinger] talks about that we cheated for three years, he either doesn’t know how to read, is really bad at reading comprehension or is just not informed at all. The commissioner’s report clearly says that all those activities were conducted in 2017. 2018 nothing happened. 2019 nothing happened. It was just talented players, playing the game of baseball with passion and winning ballgames.”
Correa’s digression to Manfred’s investigation is clever. However, it’s a strategy that seems to lack any real feeling of honesty. Talent and passion both weren’t enough in 2017, so why would that change after reaching the pinnacle of the sport? This Astros squad maybe the former World Series champs. But at the same time, they also managed to project an identity of being world-class chumps.
It’s Bregaman’s admission of guilt that really seems to stand out more than anything. Taking full responsibility for the team’s actions, the infielder says, “no one put us up to this. We did it. All of us, not one person made us do anything.”
Basically, Bregman’s comments leave many with the feeling that even the players know their punishment was unfit. Getting off without any serious repercussions, he declares what has grown to become blatantly obvious. The 2017 champions were willing to break the rules and take advantage of their opponents. They made the conscious decision to take the practice of stealing signs into uncharted territory.
Dismissing the skill of an acceptable act existing in baseball that can be traced to its origins, these champions crossed the line when they de-humanized the theft and instituted artificial technologies to gain a competitive advantage. Instead of earning those signs the old-fashioned way, they made the poor decision to cross the line by stealing them.
Did I mention that the scheme was a well thought up “player-driven” plan?
Houston knew that they were manipulating the system at their opponents’ expense, and they surely knew that what they were doing was illegal in the eyes of every baseball purist in America.
Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant believes that the cheating has extended much further than stated in Manfred’s findings. He says, “I’m pretty sure it was going on in 2018 and 2019, too. If they didn’t get caught, they’d still be doing it. And they’re only doing this apology because they got caught. Everyone around the league is upset and rightfully so because it’s really a disgrace to the game.”
He’s probably right. At the end of the day, why try and fix a well-oiled machine that isn’t broken?
The victims of this elaborate scheme are angry and want revenge. Many figureheads throughout the league are deeply-worried for the Astros’ players’ safety in the event those same victims begin to police themselves.
Many, like Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger, have suggested that the victims will be sure to administer their own punishment in the form of vigilante justice. He says, “I think players will deal with it the way it should be across the league. I don’t think it’s going to be a comfortable few ABs for a lot of those boys, and it shouldn’t be. They shouldn’t be comfortable.”
In layman’s terms, pitchers will be throwing pitches high-and-tight or directly at the Houston player’s heads. If I were one of the core four, it would be necessary to invest in some protective equipment this upcoming season.
Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood started Game 4 of the 2017 World Series against them and has suggested that pitchers WILL retaliate by throwing at them.
“Somebody will take it into their own hands,” Wood says. “and they’ll get suspended more games than any of those guys got for the biggest cheating scandal in 100 years. It’ll be pretty ironic when that happens because I’m sure that’s how it’ll end up playing out.”
The concerns for player safety can be heard loud and clear. New Astros manager Dusty Baker has come to the forefront of the issue by stating that he hopes the league office will act quickly to preserve player safety and defend the game’s most-hated team. “I’m depending on the league to try to put a stop to this seemingly premeditated retaliation that I’m hearing about. … I’m just hoping that the league puts a stop to this before somebody gets hurt.”
Baseball is a tic-for-tac sport. However, Baker is right in this instance. One-hundred miles-per-hour fastballs have the potential to cause serious bodily harm. At the moment emotions are high. It would be a shame to witness a tragedy because one individual may make the decision to act irrationally.
Commissioner Under Fire
A few days ago, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred defended his punishment of the Houston Astros for their involvement in the sign-stealing scandal. As a result of the league’s findings, he will now attempt to level the playing field and restore fair competition throughout the league by instituting new rules and policies to police the use of technology during games.
These changes will be in effect for the 2020 season and are a direct attempt for Major League Baseball to regain the trust of a suffering fanbase.
Manfred cited that he could have set a precedent against cheating by stripping the Astros of their championship hardware. However, the commissioner maintained he would be “very concerned about opening the door to altering results that took place on the field.”
Manfred further added, “Yeah, I understand. I understand people’s desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here. I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think they’re skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that’s just a mischaracterization of where we are. Having said that, the desire to have actual discipline imposed on them, I understand it and in a perfect world, it would have happened. We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it.”
As the central figurehead of administration in the majors, it’s a primary responsibility of Manfred to ensure the game and its history are protected. It’s also his responsibility to preserve the game’s integrity. Even if there’s little left after the unforgettable PED debacle at the turn of the century.
Manfred failed in his opportunity to make things right by the force of enacting his executive power. Instead, he felt it was most important to let people know that the league conducted a highly-complex investigation and to administer the results of those findings.
Luhnow failed to communicate Manfred’s contents of a 2017 memorandum outlining MLB’s policy on the use of technology. Because of the failure to pass along the information to the Astros players, the commissioner has chosen to take refuge behind the idea that the league would face grievances from the union (Major League Baseball Players Association).
“So we knew if we had disciplined the players in all likelihood we were going to have grievances and grievances that we were going to lose on the basis that we never properly informed them of the rules.” says Manfred
Failing to administer a fair and effective punishment to the guilty players involved has left a majority of the sports world with a foul taste in their mouths. Manfred’s decision to bypass direct punishment for the individuals committing illegal acts is inappropriate in regard to both fair play and justice.
Issuing memos on hit by pitches and limited in-game use of technology will certainly fail. After all, let’s not forget that as recently as 2017 the strategy has been proven to be unsuccessful. There is a standard to compete in professional baseball known as the Major League Baseball rulebook. If not enforced properly, the failure of accountability will diminish the contents to nothing more than a cluster of bound paper and ink.
Life after the scandal continues for Major League Baseball, and it’s Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez who seems to grasp the concept of moving forward best. “I understand players’ frustrations and stuff like that, but I think, in my opinion, it’s already getting a little bit too much,” Martinez said. “We have to move past it at some point. We can’t continue to talk about it. I know it’s frustrating right now. People want to talk about it, this and that, but it’s 2020. I think teams are aware of everything that’s kind of happened.
The Red Sox are currently awaiting their fate in a similar investigation of alleged sign-stealing during their 2018 World Series title run. On Sunday, Manfred said that the decision could be handed down next week.
The long-term ramifications of this scandal are yet to be seen. Still, Manfred and MLB as a whole have acted irresponsibly. It’s my fear that the sport will suffer from irreconcilable damage that will cast a dark shadow over America’s favorite pastime for years to come.
The sport has thrown the notion that cheaters never win out the window. These offenders are getting off with a slap on the wrist. This example provides a clear context for the argument that being a superior athlete puts you above the law. As a result, fans and children alike are not being deterred from the idea of cheating. Instead, they live in a reality where the preservation of fair play is further diminished.
The commissioner seems to hold a different viewpoint of the way the matter has unfolded. Little does he know, the majority of us are not suffering from a false perception of reality.
“I think that trust is something that has to be earned — or earned back,” Manfred says.. “I think that we have tried to send our fans the message that no matter who’s involved if there is an allegation that involves a violation of the rules, we’ll investigate it. We’ll investigate it with tremendous vigor and effort. We did that in Houston. We’re doing it again in Boston.