Thanks To Tito And The Boys

Regrettably, the Cleveland Guardians couldn’t quite get over the hump in their series with the Yankees. But that sad result doesn’t detract from the fact that the team had a fine season, shocked the baseball world, and made September and October a lot more interesting (and bearable) for Cleveland sports fans. In the process, this group of players, many of them rookies and unknowns, showed that they belonged in the mix of teams contending for the World Series title, and manager Terry (“Tito”) Francona showed again the deftness, leadership, and flexible thinking that make him the best manager in the game.

So I’d like to say thank you to Tito and the boys. Thank you for the 2022 Cinderella story. Thank you for the awesome September stretch run, for dashing to the AL Central title, and for winning the wild-card round in two wonderful nail-biter games. Thank you for giving your fans the incentive to wear SpongeBob Squarepants outfits to games and stay until the final out. Thank you for showing there is still room in baseball for teams that are built on good starting pitching, a well-managed bullpen, stout defense, smart hitting and baserunning, grit, hustle, and a dash of humility. Thank you for not cheating, and for playing the game the right way. Thank you for standing toe to toe with big-payroll teams like the Yankees and not wilting in the glare of pressure and media attention and the taunts of jerky Yankees fans. And finally, thank you for making baseball more innocent and fun again.

I’m sure the baseball bigwigs are happy that the Yankees moved on, and the New York City television market will remain engaged in the playoffs, but I wonder if the casual fans weren’t hoping that the upstart Guardians could knock off the Yankees and continue their magical and improbable run. As for me, with the Guardians going home I’m done with baseball for the year. I’ve heard enough of babbling Bob Costas and his ceaseless statistical chatter to last a lifetime, and there is no one to root for in the AL series between the smug, money-soaked Yankees and the ever-tainted Astros. That’s like making a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

But I will enjoy some great memories. Thanks to Tito and the boys for that, too.

Astrophobia

Some of us–poor, benighted souls that we are–believe that there is some kind of equity in sports. Even after years of painful experience tells us that no higher power could possibly be paying attention to the sports world, we cling to the notion that if we behave like a good person, help with household chores without being asked to do so, follow a particular routine, and wear a lucky shirt, or socks, or hat, or some other item of apparel, the fickle sports gods will notice and tilt the karma in our favor. A key belief, underlying all of the superstition, is that someone somewhere will notice that we are doing those good things and displaying our commitment to our team and reward us with wins and, we hope, championships.

If you ever needed proof that there is no equity whatsoever in sports, here it is: the Houston Astros have made the World Series for the third time in five years.

The Astros engaged in a one of the worst sports cheating scandals since the Chicago Black Sox threw the World Series in 1919. The team intentionally stole signs in 2017, when they won the World Series, and for part of 2018 until their scheme was uncovered. The Astros–who some people dubbed the “Asterisks,” as in the logo above, to reflect that the franchise won the championship by cheating–were fined $5 million, lost a few draft picks, and fired some of their front office personnel. But the team’s owner remained in place, the Astros hung their championship banner, and no punishment was meted out to the players who participated in the cheating. Remember that the next time you hear somebody in organized baseball talking about needing to do something to protect the “integrity of the game.”

If there were justice and equity in sports, the Astros wouldn’t be going to another World Series, and making people wonder whether those guys who figured out a way to cheat before might somehow be cheating again. But they are. The Astros owner says he thinks the scandal is in the rear view mirror, but there are many of us who remember, and who think the lack of accountability for flagrant cheating is a continuing black eye for baseball.

I can’t do anything about equity in sports, but I can do one thing: not watch any game the Astros play. I therefore won’t be watching the World Series this year.

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?