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?

Pro Sports In Vegas

The NFL has approved the request of the Oakland Raiders franchise to move to Las Vegas.  It’s not clear when the Raiders will actually start playing in Vegas, and the team will likely play another season or two in Oakland, but a new stadium is expected to be built for them in their new home in southern Nevada in time for the 2020 season.

ows_149067187344496The story here isn’t another move of a pro sports franchise; teams packing up and hauling their operations to a new town is old news these days.  The Raiders, who have shuttled back and forth between Oakland and Los Angeles and always seem to be either moving or on the verge of moving, are one of the hand-wringing teams that are forever working their local government for a more lucrative deal.  If Las Vegas wants to foot the bill for a lavish new domed stadium — which is expected to cost at least $1.9 billion, with the costs being split between revenues generated by an increased hotel room tax, the Raiders organization, and a Las Vegas gazillionaire — to get the NFL brand associated with Sin City, that’s its decision to make.

No, the real story here is that the Raiders’ approved move to Las Vegas is just the latest evidence of the increasingly accepted association of gambling and sports.  Gambling used to be one of the chief concerns of professional and college sports teams.  From the Chicago Black Sox throwing the 1919 World Series, to the college basketball point-shaving scandals of the ’40s and ’50s, to the suspension of Pete Rose from major league baseball for betting on baseball games, sports leagues traditionally reacted viscerally to any association with gambling.

But a lot has changed in America, and gambling has become much more commonplace and accepted.  When I was in Philadelphia recently the landscape was dotted with signs for casino gambling; the slot machines and table games that used to be reserved for Las Vegas can now be found in more than half the states in America.  Betting on sports events has become so routine that the lines and odds on games and matches are available to anyone with a few strokes of a keyboard, and one of America’s great annual pastimes is participating in the NCAA March Madness pool at the office.  There’s not as much of a taint to gambling as used to be the case.

But, is it good to have an NFL team in Las Vegas, where sports gambling is legal and people can make, or lose, huge sums of money if the point spread gets covered because of a flukey last-minute play?  Is it wise to have professional athletes living in a community where, at a party or charity event, they may hobnob with some well-heeled but shady characters who might drop a hint or two about how the athletes and their teammates could make some easy money without costing their team a game?  Could you envision a scenario where an NFL star has a bad run of luck at the gaming tables and is encouraged to even the score by missing a block or dropping a sure touchdown catch?  I suppose you can argue that pro athletes could be exposed to such characters, and temptations, anywhere in America, but gambling is so deeply engrained and accepted in the Las Vegas culture that I’m not sure other situations are really comparable to pro athletes being based in a place that is often called a “gambling mecca.”

We’ve come a long way since the days when pro sports teams did whatever they could to project a squeaky clean image.  Now we’ll have an NFL team located squarely in the most gambling-oriented town in America.

Poor Pete’s Pity Party

If there is a more pathetic figure in professional sports than Pete Rose, I don’t know who it is.  He lives in Vegas and makes his living by selling his autograph to people who, for reasons only they know, will pay through the nose for the signature of the All-Time Hits Leader.

But Pete is sad.  Because he gambled on baseball, despite the ironclad ban that has existed since Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was  Commissioner, he has been banished from the game and can’t be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.  Now he laments that he was just cursed because gambling was his vice.  He’d be better off, he says, if he’d been an alcoholic, a drug user, or a wife beater, because those vices can be forgiven.

Pete Rose says that he’s “messed up” and is “paying the consequences,” but his recent comments belie any true contrition.  He lied about gambling for years and only admitted it to help sell his autobiography, and now he hopes to make people feel sorry for him.  I don’t, and no one should.

Pete Rose violated the cardinal rule in baseball, and he got what he deserved.  For a guy who played up his reputation as a tough, hard-nosed player, he’s really become a crybaby.  It’s sad.

Beat The Reds (And Avenge Ray Fosse)!

The Tribe has played a few inter-league games so far this year, but the blood-and-guts games really start tonight, when the Tribe squares off against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark.  I’m hoping that the Indians beat the snot out of the Cincinnati squad.

I’ve always disliked the Reds due to one incident:  Pete Rose’s decision to bowl over the Indians’ Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.  Rose scored the winning run and added to his legend as a tough, all-out player, and in the process he wrecked Fosse’s shoulder.  Fosse — who was my favorite player — was never the same again.  I recognize that players will play to win, but I always thought Rose’s decision to smash into Fosse, rather than trying to slide, was a grandstand play that had no place in an all-star game.

I suppose Rose got his comeuppance when his gambling habits got him banned from baseball, but I still like to see the Tribe avenge Ray Fosse and spank the Redlegs whenever they play.

This year the games between the teams should be  a pretty even match-up.  The teams sport identical 32-27 records and are both in the thick of the races for the lead in their respective divisions.  The all-time series is pretty even, too, with the Tribe leading 39-36.  Let the Battle For Ohio begin!