The baseball world has been rocked by the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, and this week it was further rocked by the punishments handed down by the baseball commissioner. For implementing a process to systematically steal signs and convey them to Astros batters, the general manager and the manager of the Astros were suspended for a year, the team was fined the maximum of $5 million, and the team lost first-round and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. The manager and the general manager were then fired by the team’s owner.
There’s a lot of anger about the scandal, and the punishments. The Astros won a World Series title in 2017, after a post-season run in which Major League Baseball determined that the Astros were cheating by stealing signs. The Astros get to keep that tainted title. The owner of the team wasn’t disciplined beyond paying the fine. And even though the baseball investigators determined that the whole scandal was “player-driven,” no players have so far been punished. The awards the players won for their performance, the hits they got after being tipped off about the pitches to come, and the accolades and bonuses and salary increases they received all are so far undisturbed. Among some people in the baseball world, there’s a feeling that the Astros and their players got off easy, with only a few fall guys punished for an institutionalized cheating process that had to have involved virtually everyone in the franchise.
From a fan’s perspective, it’s the breadth and scope of the cheating that really takes your breath away. To the extent that anyone still clings to the notion that baseball is the pure sport depicted in Field of Dreams, the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal has crushed that notion, once and for all. And because everybody in the Astros organization seemingly was in on it, the impact of the scandal goes beyond past scandals involving individual players who might have taken illegal substances, or thrown spitballs, or flouted the rules in other individual ways. The sign-stealing scandal also makes you wonder about things like Pete Rose’s lifetime ban. Long-time readers of this blog know that I despise Pete Rose, but is the fact that he bet on games really worse than what the Houston Astros did?
Nobody on the Astros apparently cared that the team was breaking the rules, cheating, and getting an unfair advantage — and that’s pretty disillusioning. It makes the fan wonder just how widespread the cheating mentality, and the cheating itself, really is. How do we ever assure ourselves that the winners won, fair and square?