Following a three-month investigation into the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Major League Baseball (MLB) recently announced its penalties against Houston leadership. However, while both upper and middle management positions felt the full brunt of the commissioner Rob Manfred’s wrath, Astros’ players were essentially absolved of responsibility, potentially corroding trust in baseball’s integrity.
In a slow-burning case that seemingly unraveled overnight, it was discovered that the Astros used electronic and auditory means to decode opposing teams’ signs before communicating them to hitters. The investigation concluded that then-bench coach Alex Cora used the dugout telephone to consult the Astros’ replay review room. After coordinating with Carlos Beltran and other Astros players, Cora oversaw the installation of a center field camera to help decipher opposing teams’ signals. Players and coaches would then communicate offspeed pitches to hitters by striking a dugout garbage can with a baseball bat.
The punishments handed out by the MLB were staggering. Houston was stripped of its first and second-round picks for both the 2020 and 2021 draft. The MLB also issued the franchise a $5 million fine.
Following the release of MLB’s official investigative report, team manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were relieved of their duties ahead of their impending one-year suspensions. Cora, who led the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018 in a managerial capacity, was also dismissed after being the subject of a scathing report which cited him as the mastermind behind the scandal. A few days later, the New York Mets announced that they had mutually parted ways with Beltran, who was recently hired as New York’s manager–though later reports contend that the Mets organization was adamant about dismissing Beltran.
There had been suspicions of dishonesty within the Astros clubhouse before—Cincinnati Reds’ pitcher Trevor Bauer infamously questioned Houston’s integrity in 2018— but the sheer talent featured on the Astros’ 2017 World Series roster insulated them against what were once considered unfounded accusations.
However, sign-stealing in MLB isn’t new. The 1899-1900 Phillies used a center field wire to transmit electronic pulses to the third base coaches’ box. Former Chicago White Sox pitcher Al Worthington quit the team midway through the 1960 season because he believed the team’s sign-stealing tactics contradicted his religious beliefs. The Philadelphia Phillies were accused of sign-stealing as recently as 2010.
However, this is the first time the MLB has actually taken action on such allegations, recategorizing the tactic from fundamental dishonesty to explicitly prohibited.
Nevertheless, among all the turmoil and subsequent ramifications, there has been one glaring omission: the players involved.
Major League Baseball has shown itself willing to punish players based on personal and professional misconduct. Pete Rose, the MLB’s all-time hits leader, is currently serving a lifetime ban for placing bets on his own team. The ripple effect of the steroid era has implicitly disqualified some of the MLB’s most accomplished players from Hall of Fame eligibility. Heavy fines and suspensions are leveled at those who violate MLB’s substance abuse policy, as outlined in the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Policy. Even the personal use of recreational drugs can result in suspension.
Yet, the players who not only benefited from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, but subsequently engraved their name in history in part because of it, have somehow eluded consequence.
In conjunction with the Red Sox’ 2018 World Series victory, the MLB must confront the fact that two of the past three World Series victories have been tarnished by scandals related to current and former Houston Astros’ personnel. Astros players were complicit in such efforts, willingly accepting unfair advantages to enhance their title odds. For the MLB to turn a blind eye toward player participation is not only a gross oversight, but also incentivizes further cheating.
The MLB’s blunder is even more peculiar considering the vital role Astros players played in the scandal. Players helped organize and execute the communication between dugout and batter. Furthermore, the transaction between dugout and hitter simply doesn’t work without a common understanding throughout the entire clubhouse. It’s simply not feasible to believe that the players weren’t involved in the scandal.
Last week, the city of Los Angeles passed a resolution urging the MLB to strip the 2017 Houston Astros and 2018 Boston Red Sox of their World Series Titles. In this resolution, Los Angeles representatives ask the MLB to retroactively award both World Series championships to the Dodgers. While such an extreme measure would feel like a diluted, hand-me-down way to win a World Series, such drastic measures are warranted.
Astros players stole away the dreams of their peers. They tarnished legacies to enhance their own. The club defied the integrity of America’s pastime and infected the game with needless dishonesty.
Imagine how different Clayton Kershaw’s legacy might look if opposing batters weren’t anticipating every offspeed pitch.
Might we be discussing Cody Bellinger as one of the most accomplished young players in MLB history had he collected two World Series rings?
Imagine how players like Rich Hill, who participated in the last two World Series at age 37 and 38, respectively, feels knowing the Astros stole what may be his last chance to obtain a World Series ring?
Finally, envision a scenario where only the team doctors administering steroids were cited for their participation. Imagine a situation where the bookmakers were punished rather than Rose.
The longer the MLB sits on its hands regarding player suspension, the longer they infect the trust of their fanbase. Baseball fans will forever cast a suspicious eye toward clubhouse success, wondering when the next emboldened player or coach will decide to disrespect the game of baseball for the sake of winning a championship. By leaving the involved players untouched and unpenalized, the MLB further incentivizes cheating.