The Houston Astros: Baseball’s Former Shooting Star is Just Space Junk

Image: “World Series Trophy” by Erik Drost, licensed under CC By 2.0, Creative Commons.

Hank Aaron, a baseball legend, believes that the Astros players involved in the recent sign-stealing scandal should be banned for life.  Others disagree.  “This is good for baseball, people are talking about it again”, Max Kellerman boasts on ESPN’s First Take.  In support of his statement, Kellerman goes on to highlight that following the 1919 Black Sox scandal, baseball became more popular in the United States than ever before.  The mess that the Astro’s created poses one question key for baseball: Is this going to change anything?  With the current way that MLB commissioner is handling it, no.

What Happened?

Sign stealing is nothing new in baseball.  It is a respected part of the game; when done properly, without the use of sign stealing technology.  The Astros decidedly ignored this aspect of the game.  Beginning in September 2016, an intern in the Astros organization gave a presentation to Jeff Luhnow, then Astros General Manager and President of Baseball Operations.  This presentation consisted of a Microsoft Excel application that could “decode” opposing teams’ signs; they dubbed it “Codebreaker.”  That intern alleges it was not meant to be used during games; however, the Astros did use it during games.  Throughout the 2017 season, the season in which the Astros would best the Los Angeles Dodgers for their only World Series title, and the 2018 season, this application was used during games to steal signs.  This was done by using a camera in the outfield and relaying the pitching signs to someone below the dugout.  This person below the dugout would then bang on a trash can a certain number of times to let the batter know what pitch to expect.  Moreover, there are allegations that during key games, players, such as Jose Altuve, wore a buzzer indicating what kind of pitch to expect. 

Eventually, former Astros pitcher, Mike Fiers, spoke and released the story with The Athletic in late 2019.  Following the release, MLB investigated the claims and suspended AJ Hinch, the Astros former Manager, and Jeff Luhnow from MLB for one year, and levied a fine upon the Houston Astros, but allowed them to keep their 2017 title. 

Though largely overshadowed by the Astros it is also worth noting that the Boston Red Sox, who won the world series in 2018, are also being investigated for sign stealing practices.  That report is due by the end of February 2020.

Poor Effort

Commissioner Manfred argues that he needed to grant immunity to the players in order to get the full story.  By offering this immunity, the Commissioner claims it is the only way he could truly find out what happened.  The Commissioner believes that the public shame players have received, and will receive, is enough for them to be remorseful for their actions and, in turn, properly impact their decisions going forward.  To Manfred’s credit, however, he does intend to have more discussions with the players union about anti-cheating measures, as well as implementing more rules to prevent cheating moving forward.  That should be expected.  What he has done that is unexpected, however, is create a void in which players can now, collectively, cheat and then keep their stolen titles because the Commissioner just wants to know the truth.

Baseball, like any other sport, is a game of integrity.  Like the “Great One” in hockey there is something awe-inspiring about watching a truly great player, or a great team, dominate the sport and come out on top.  As an avid Cubs fan, 2016 is a true moment of that feeling for myself and the city of Chicago.  But, like anything in sports, there are times where the system can be abused.  The Astros misled fans of baseball into thinking they were genuinely a dominant team.  As a result of the Astros covering up their cheating ways players lost their careers and even one filed a lawsuit because of it.  When the integrity is broken, it can and should be fixed.   The 1919 Black Sox had eight players banned , including great ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson.  Pete Rose is banned because of gambling on games.  Moreover, looking into another sports world, Manchester City F.C. has been banned for two years from the Champions League and fined thirty million Euros for altering their accounting books.  But Commission Manfred is convinced that other people jeering and sneering at the Astros is enough to deter them when in-fact all he has done is create a void for other teams to follow suit.

Allowing the Astros players to remain unscathed and the organization to keep its title shows that MLB will do little to discipline if you are caught cheating.  The Red Sox are being investigated for their actions in 2018 as well, but at this point can it be more egregious than what the Astros did in 2017-19?  Even if it is more egregious, the Red Sox players now know of a way for them to keep their title and for them not to get any legitimate sanctions or bans from MLB.  All they have to do is come together as a unit and confess to the Commissioner. This way the Commissioner gets his full picture, they get granted immunity, keep their rings, title, money, and go about their merry way.  It is hard to argue that no team will not be incentivized to incorporate such a plan within its organization sooner. 

Conclusion

Fans of baseball are upset, because they should be.  More needs to be done to protect the integrity of the sport and to legitimately discourage people from doing such practices again in the future.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that Commissioner Manfred is going to do that any time soon, even if the Red Sox come out worse.  As it stands now, however, it is going to take some policing from within baseball’s organization to make sure that another Astros sized scandal does not happen again, because clearly MLB’s Commissioner cannot handle the pressure to have the League enforce it. 

Scott Hammersley, Staff Editor

Image: “World Series Trophy” by Erik Drost, licensed under CC By 2.0, Creative Commons.

 

References

Chandler Rome and David Barron, Ex-pitcher sues Astros, says sign stealing a ‘death knell’ for his MLB career, The Houston Chronicle, (Feb. 10, 2020), https://www.houstonchronicle.com/texas-sports-nation/astros/article/Former-pitcher-sues-Astros-says-sign-stealing-a-15045244.php.

Des Bieler, Hank Aaron thinks sign-stealing Astros players should be banned from baseball, The Washington Post, (Feb. 7, 2020) https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/02/07/hank-aaron-thinks-sign-stealing-astros-players-should-be-banned-baseball/#comments-wrapper.

ESPN First Take on Stephen A. Smith, ESPN First Take | Max Kellerman questionable Is this situation actually good for Baseball?, YouTube (January 17, 2020) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vztqom0CBT0.

Evan Caminker and Erwin Chemerinsky, Pete Rose Has Done His Time, The New York Times, (Feb. 11, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/11/opinion/pete-rose-baseball.html.

Jared Diamond, ‘Dark Arts’ and ‘Codebreaker’: The Origins of the Houston Astros Cheating Scheme, The Wall Street Journal, (Feb. 7, 2020) https://www.wsj.com/articles/houston-astros-cheating-scheme-dark-arts-codebreaker-11581112994?mod=searchresults&page=1&pos=1.

John Thorn, Forget What You Know About the Black Sox Scandal, The New York Times, (Oct. 9, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/09/opinion/black-sox-scandal-1919.html.

Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, The Astros stole signs electronically in 2017 – part of a much broader issue for Major League Baseball, The Athletic, (Nov. 11, 2019) https://theathletic.com/1363451/2019/11/12/the-astros-stole-signs-electronically-in-2017-part-of-a-much-broader-issue-for-major-league-baseball/.

Nick Greene, Why Manchester City Got Banned From the Champions League, Slate, (Feb. 14, 2020) https://slate.com/culture/2020/02/manchester-city-banned-champions-league-uefa-sponsorship-scandal.html.

Tyler Kepner, Manfred Says Astros’ Shame Is Penalty Enough. Opponents Might Disagree, The New York Times, (Feb. 16, 2020) https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/16/
sports/baseball/rob-manfred-astros.html.


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