How come whenever there’s some kind of systemic failure in the worlds of business, politics, media, or whatever genre you want to choose, the ones who are guilty—the ones who, you know, actually did the dirty deed—are all too often never held accountable? Somebody else ends up taking the fall while the real perpetrators keep it moving without any repercussions.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news cycle this week then you know baseball is currently embroiled in its biggest scandal since the Steroid Era of the late 90s and early 2000s. Instead of pills and syringes it’s technologically aided sign-stealing that’s dusted the sport. Major League Baseball released a damning report earlier this week that laid out how the Astros, the 2017 World Series champions and one of the best teams in the sport over the last three seasons, systemically cheated and crossed a line by tipping off hitters as to what pitch was coming thanks to strategically placed cameras and trash cans. Not surprisingly, the wrong people are being held accountable for messing with the integrity of the game.
Basically, the Astros would monitor the signs the catcher threw down via the center field camera, decipher what pitch was coming, and bang loudly so the batter knew what to expect. Those egregious and historic levels of cheating helped carry Houston to its first title. Something similar may have helped carry the Red Sox, the 2018 World Series champs, to the franchise’s ninth title. An official report from MLB determining the level of Boston’s deception is expected to drop soon. It’s been reported and speculated that as many as six other teams could face investigation for technologically aided sign-stealing.
I just know the gatekeepers who have done their best to make the Hall of Fame some sacrosanct fraternity have the ability, and dare I now say duty, to keep the sign-stealing cheats out if the steroid cheats can’t get in.
It’s an incredibly bad look for baseball and it feels like it’s only getting worse.
Baseball fans know that the game has always possessed a culture of cheating, but the Astros took it to a new level under the direction of then bench coach Alex Cora. Punishment was handed down to the Astros earlier this week in the form of a massive fine, loss of draft picks, and the suspension of the general manager and manager. Jeff Luhnow, the GM, and AJ Hinch, the manager, were quickly fired by the Astros. The Red Sox and Cora, the team’s manager the past two seasons, announced they were parting ways Wednesday.
Sure Luhnow and Hinch—i.e. management—deserve blame since they didn’t put a stop to any of it. Cora was considered the orchestrator and he’s probably going to be suspended by baseball. But it was glaring, and frankly cowardly, how baseball didn’t punish the players like Jose Altuive, Alex Bregman, and others who actively engaged and directly benefited from the scheme.
The practical reasons why Astros players skated from fines or suspension are many. For starters, MLB can’t just suspend the majority of the players on one of its better teams and figuring out precisely who did what and for how long would be exhausting. Plus, the Players Union would fight any suspension and make life a living hell for MLB. So MLB gave immunity to players who offered up factual testimony.
So I guess that means baseball has to police itself and no other game is revered for doing just that. It won’t be swift and it won’t change the fact the Dodgers lost two straight World Series to squads seemingly full of cheaters. And here’s hoping it doesn’t mean the Astros start to get beaned barbarically with a 98-mph fastball in the ear hole every time they visit a new city.
Instead, what I hope happens is that all the players with legitimate Hall of Fame resumes from the Astros, Red Sox, and any other squads determined to be cheaters are given the same treatment a bunch of other legends stigmatized by their past have received.
That might sound lame to those looking for blood immediately, like Dodgers fans, and it won’t punish some of the very good to average players who cheated. But if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens can’t get elected into a museum (which is all baseball’s Hall of Fame is anyway), I’m all for starting a campaign to keep cheaters like Carlos Beltran, Altuve, Bregman, and any other Astros player that could eventually have a legendary career out of the Hall. Especially if they used a buzzer—like internet conspiracy theorists and at least one MLB pitcher think might have happened last season. For the time being, it seems like the latest allegations are thankfully false and Altuve actually released a statement through his agent, Scott Boras, denying the use of a buzzer.
But once a cheater, forever stigmatized a cheater. Waiting until 2035 or 2040 for retribution, when Altuve and others would roughly be eligible for Hall of Fame induction, seems like forever. But there’s something deliciously devilish about playing the long game here. Bonds, Clemens, and a few others attached to the Steroid Era took their cheating to levels the game had never seen before and still haven't recovered from it. They have never garnered enough votes from baseball writers to earn induction into the Hall. Maybe that finally changes this year. I think they should be in because it’s a museum. You can’t tell the story of baseball without them, whether you think what they allegedly did was right or wrong (and, it should be noted, never explicitly outlawed in baseball’s rules until 2004).
How many Hall of Famers stuffed their face with amphetamines—now banned in the game—during the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s? And how many Hall of Famers took steroids without getting caught? Probably a bunch. And if Hall of Fame voters are going to continue to get on their high horse, heavily weigh morality/integrity, and block two of the most high profile steroid users from immortality then they need to keep that same energy when it’s time to weigh the candidacies of sign-stealing cheaters like Beltran (legit Hall credentials who lost his job over the scandal as Mets manager Thursday), Altuve (easily could be Hall worthy), Bregman (potentially), and others down the road.
Pitchers are a little different story than hitters, since they didn’t directly benefit from stolen signs, but I hope this stains Justin Verlander, too. One of the best right handed starters the game has seen over the last 20 seasons, Verlander is hard to take seriously when time and time again he has pontificated about what’s right and wrong in the game—including imploring MLB to do something about sign-stealing in 2017. Meanwhile, he joined a team full of cheaters late that season and rode the wave all the way to the only World Series title of his storied career. There’s been nothing but silence from the out-spoken Verlander since MLB dropped this bomb.
It’s just sad and pathetic that this is what it takes for baseball to dominate the sports news cycle. I wish baseball got more respect from casual sports fans because it’s an incredibly dramatic, strategic, and difficult game that is perfectly imperfect. It’s also beautiful and I hate that it’s going to carry this black eye into the 2020 season and beyond. I wish there was something baseball would do to bring down the hammer on guys caught up in this scandal the way they do if you’re popped for PEDs nowadays. Take a banned substance and you get suspended 80 games and miss the playoffs. I honestly have no idea what would be the right fine or suspension for any player found to have who directly benefited from going above and beyond traditional gamesmanship to earn an edge. I just know the gatekeepers who have done their best to make the Hall of Fame some sacrosanct fraternity have the ability, and dare I now say duty, to keep the sign-stealing cheats out if the steroid cheats can’t get in.