I was thinking about this whole “cheating” situation with the Astros and one of the things that came to mind was how my friends and I would play outside back in the day. It didn’t matter whether we were playing touch football on Terry Brown’s side yard or playing some one on one on David Nees’ basket or even playing some hot box in our back yard. We mostly played fair. So fair that we never had a third-party ump or ref. We called the fouls, safe/outs and catch/no catch ourselves. Sure, there were disagreements and arguments, but they were normally settled quickly and the disagreements were because both sides really thought they were right on bang-bang plays. We did not think about cheating to win. We won because we did something better than the opponent that day.
There are a lot of things that bother me about this whole cheating scandal, but probably the biggest piece was how unnecessary this was. This version of the Astros was one of the most talented teams I’ve ever seen. They did not need to do this to be an excellent, winning team. And in fact, many of us wonder if doing this helped or hindered them.
It is funny, but there has been obvious cheating going on right in front of our eyes for years that never was pointed out. How many times over the seasons did players act like they made a tag that they knew they did not make? Or act like they caught a ball that they knew hit short of their glove? Or acted like they were hit by a pitch that they knew did not hit them? This is and has been cheating and was accepted as gamesmanship, but has been fortunately undercut by the proliferation of instant replay.
At this point, I don’t care if our team was or was not the only one performing electronic sign stealing. I don’t care that this punishment may be a bit unfair because we were trying to “compete” with other teams in electronic espionage. I just care that the true joy that I felt on Nov. 1st, 2017 has been stolen from me. After the Rockets won their titles I had to live with the quasi-asterisk of “You only won because Michael Jordan retired”. Now I have to live with “You only won because your team is a bunch of cheaters.” After waiting for a title for 52 years (in my case) that is grossly unfair. And it is the fault of the Astros.
Speaking of fault, the guys in charge are taking it in the neck because of the old rule that they knew or should have known this was occurring on their watch. I wish we were not losing these two men, they were very good at their jobs, but I accept that this was the only way the team could move forward. But I don’t give MLB or Jim Crane a free pass on this.
I recently read the excellent book Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof about the Black Sox scandal of 1919. There is no doubt that the players involved did the wrong thing in even entertaining the thought of throwing World Series games for money. But it is also true that the “culture” of baseball and especially that of their owner, Charles Comiskey was complicit in what happened. Baseball was set up to chain the players to a single team and the team owners abused the system by going take it or leave it with the players. Comiskey significantly underpaid his players even versus the other owners and had his henchmen go out and strong arm the players, even lying to Shoeless Joe Jackson (who could not read) about what was in the contract he signed. It was no surprise that the players (who knew that other players had thrown games for money before them and were unpunished) would want a single big payday that they felt they had earned and had been denied them. Obviously, the culture today is not one of underpay. But it seems to have been one of win at all cost and to me that does not stop at the GM, but also should extend to the owner as far as “knew or should have known”.
It would be naïve to think that what happened in the suspension and firing of AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow was not completely orchestrated between MLB and Jim Crane. They undoubtedly negotiated the final scenario out that allowed MLB to hand down a big punishment to show how pristine they are and also allowed Jim Crane to go beyond that to show how pristine he and his organization is (or will be). Of course, the problem Crane has now is that he has only removed 2 people from his organization involved in this controversy. He still has players, coaches and front office personnel that were here during that time and undoubtedly ones who participated or knew what had happened. How will he deal with that, especially with in-house openings?
Did the Astros deserve the punishment they were given? Yes they did. Did Hinch and Luhnow deserve the punishments they were given? Yes they did. But baseball, who gave a small slap on the wrist to the Red Sox and Yankees for stealing signs back in 2017 should have whacked those teams at the time. They also better not pretend that this encompasses all the cheating that has occurred over the last few years. Alex Cora should be punished, all teams should be investigated and only after they have put equal effort into this that they put into the Astros investigation should they rest and pat themselves on the back.
I will continue to be a fan of baseball and of the “new” Astros. I will not allow the actions of a few individuals steal that joy from me. Will I have a little more cynical approach in my thoughts and my writings? Probably.
I’ve known for decades that I can’t go back to the days of self-policing sports in the front yard. But today I wish I could.