Sign-Stealing Scandal

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.

tlqy3-1578949177-155192-blog-houstonastrosThere’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?

Making Up Your Mind: Voting Based On Naked Self Interest

Recently I went out to lunch with Dr. Science.  As has happened in many conversations this year, talk turned to the election.  Dr. Science knows that I am struggling with the decision on who to vote for, and he made an interesting pitch in his ongoing effort to get me to overcome my deep misgivings and vote for Hillary Clinton.

The argument was stated with clinical, Dr. Science-like rationality:  (1) we’ve both worked hard for years to save money for retirement; (2) almost all of our retirement savings is invested in the financial markets; (3) it seems as though everyone involved with the financial markets is forecasting a massive stock market plunge if Trump is elected and a stock market increase if Clinton is elected; and (4) why wouldn’t you want to cast your vote to affirmatively select someone whose election would not crush the value of your retirement savings?

francois_de_la_rochefoucauld_loneliness_2247In effect, Dr. Science was arguing that undecided voters should focus on their own, naked self-interest and vote for whichever candidate they believed would most benefit them personally.  I found his straightforward candor refreshing.  The conversation reminded me of the scene in Field of Dreams where Ray, after having built the baseball park in his corn field, suffered the sarcasm of his neighbors, and risked losing his farm, asks the ghostly ballplayers:  “I’m not saying ‘What’s in it for me’ but . . . what’s in it for me?”

I’ve never voted for a candidate based on how I thought it would affect me, personally —  I’ve always tried to vote for the candidate who I thought would do the best job for the country as a whole.  There’s something that strikes me as unseemly about focusing solely on self-interest in deciding how to vote.  And yet, with the awful choice presented in this election, maybe naked self-interest should be permitted to tip the balance between voting for someone and not voting at all.

My conversation with Dr. Science was one of several conversations I’ve had with people about deciding how to vote — conversations that I’ve never had before because I’ve always made up my mind early and never wavered.  I’ll write about some of the other conversations in the few remaining hours before Election Day arrives.