By MARC MALKOSKIE
In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the better part of the last two months, the Houston Astros have been caught in the middle of a sign stealing scandal that has dominated the MLB’s headlines.
The scandal’s magnitude has reached its peak over the past week with four management figures on three different teams being dismissed from their positions.
On Monday, the Astros fired general manager Jeff Lunhow and manager AJ Hinch after commissioner Rob Manfred suspended each of them for a year a couple hours prior. The plot thickened on Tuesday, when the Boston Red Sox “mutually agreed to part ways” with skipper Alex Cora, who served as Houston’s bench coach during the 2017 season that’s under the microscope. The New York Mets followed suit on Thursday by doing the same with Carlos Beltran, an outfielder on the ’17 Astros who was hired as the Mets’ skipper on Nov. 1, 2019.
With MLB’s ongoing investigation, I wanted to offer some heartfelt opinions on multiple aspects of the investigation from the vantage point of someone who has ate, slept and breathed baseball since the age of three.
The statement released by the commissioner’s office on Monday states in part, “Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay room, had no involvement in the banging scheme. However, witnesses made clear that everyone proximate to the Astros’ dugout presumptively heard or saw the banging.”
Regarding whether players should be suspended over the alleged cheating, here’s some perspective: In 1920, Shoeless Joe Jackson was banned from MLB for life after a grand jury found he accepted $5,000 to throw the 1919 World Series.
It’s still often debated whether Jackson, who began working in a textile mill in his hometown of Pelzer, South Carolina at the age of six rather than going to school, even understood the magnitude of what he was getting himself into at the time he was coerced into accepting the $5,000.
There was also no evidence that Jackson tried to lose the series. His .375 batting average over the eight-game series led both teams and he notched 12 base hits, a Series record that stood until Bobby Richardson had 13 in the 1964 Fall Classic.
So, if Jackson was banned for life for similar principles to those revolving around the Astros, who cheated to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games for the franchise’s first title after failing each of the 52 years prior, explain to me how suspensions for each knowing player from the 2017 team aren’t warranted.
Since former Houston pitcher-turned-whistleblower Mike Fiers knew of the cheating, it has to be assumed that every single Astros player from 2017, particularly position players who directly benefited from the sign stealing operation, still accepted World Series rings despite knowing damn well they cheated to get them.
From a monetary standpoint, Jackson and his seven co-conspirators made far less off its scandal than the Astros’ organization and its players made of theirs. Even in today’s money, each participant from the Black Sox scandal were paid a measly $74,000.
Meanwhile, the Astros have grossed over $1 billion — with a “B” — in sales since the end of the 2017 season, while many star players received large endorsement deals, some of which wouldn’t have occurred if not for the tainted World Series title, along with contract extensions worth millions.
And let’s talk about Pete Rose, the man banished from baseball for life in 1989 because he bet on his own team to WIN, not to lose.
Rose was one of the greatest players the game has ever seen, a 17-time All-Star and three-time World Series champion who is still the all-time record holder for hits, times on base and wins as a player, among several other marks.
So, at the very least, even Houston’s “brightest” cheaters, such as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, should be subject to suspension. I mean, the MLB found the cheating procedures were literally executed by the players themselves.
Players who cheated by using illegal performance-enhancing drugs — Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano, among several others — all had to serve time away from the game due to their conscious use of utilizing an unfair advantage that’s clearly against the rules. How is this situation any different?
While it’s very unlikely to happen in this case, illegal advantages have led to vacated titles in other sports, such as Louisville men’s basketball in 2013 and UCLA softball in 1995. But why shouldn’t cases like those serve as precedents for this scandal?
At the very least, Jose Altuve should be stripped of his 2017 MVP award. During that postseason, he batted .472 at home with six home runs and an OPS of 1.541 at home, numbers drastically improved from his away splits, which include an abysmal .143 batting average, a .497 OPS and just one home run. That makes it pretty evident there was something more than home-field advantage at work there.
As for Hinch, who reportedly smashed two television monitors the Astros were using to cheat — he was still complicit. To me, his role is eerily similar to that of Joe Paterno with the Sandusky case. He “did his job” by reporting what he saw to his boss, or in this case, destroyed evidence, but still could’ve and should’ve done much more when he realized nothing was actually being done to stop the situation.
If Cora truly was the mastermind of the cheating operations of both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox, he should undisputedly be banned indefinitely from baseball. What he’ll have done to the game is significantly worse than what Pete Rose did, so he should receive no less of a punishment.
If no players are suspended, then neither should Beltran since he was still just a player at the time. But if MLB shockingly makes the right move and punishes the players, then it would make sense for Beltran to be included in that mix.
If Commissioner Rob Manfred and the league office doesn’t issue player suspensions, it’ll only further prove he is a spineless buffoon who’s afraid of the players’ union and he will no longer have an ounce of respect from me and many other dedicated fans of the game.
While it’ll be interesting to see just how deep this scandal runs in Houston as the investigation continues to unfold, I also want to make clear I wish this never happened.
A ball club with even a hint of respect and integrity for the game never would’ve allowed such insulting acts to unfold.