Wednesday, February 19, 2020

On the Astros and Cheating in Baseball

By Kevin Beane

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal is one that will probably never completely go away. It's a black mark on the game and, as the news cycle remains in full force about it as player after player weighs in and Rob Manfred continues to say dumb things about it, we will be talking about this all season. At least.

And that's too bad. I hate this, and I already hate talking about it and thinking about it. I do want to move on. And why not move on? By "move on" I don't mean forgive anyone involved, respect them again, or not lustily boo the Astros on each and every one of the plate appearances. If you see fit to do that, do it. But Manfred isn't going re-litigate these punishments. The court of public opinion and shaming, as well as the loss of respect from the Astros peers, is all that's left. But do we have to continue to talk about this non-stop? I'm surprised how much this depresses me.

Based on the above, you would think I have a pitchfork as sharpened as anyone else. In fact, I don't. In fact, I can muster some sympathy for the Astros players. In fact, I can even muster a tiny bit sympathy for Manfred. In fact, I think we like to have things to rage at, and perhaps by sympathizing with the devil I will get that rage pointed towards me as ferociously as when, many years ago in this space, I asked people to look at how their dietary habits may be contributing to suffering animals before crucifying Michael Vick.

But, here goes.

First, the Astros did not invent sign-stealing. By all accounts, they brought it to new heights, but this is a concept that every baseball fan is already familiar with. While obviously nobody condones the practice, I don't recall reading too many op-eds decrying it in the abstract, even though — come on — we all knew it went on.

Which is why I find it rich when position players raise cane over this. This is absolutely not to say that all position players steal signs, but yes, I will say all position players have been around and aware of sign-stealing attempts on their own team at some point in their professional career.

And yet, we don't have any cases of a player going public to say, "Hey! People on my team are stealing signs!"

Is it reasonable to expect that any player to do that? Of course not. They would instantly become the ultimate clubhouse pariah. They would probably be blackballed from baseball.

But that's just it — some players who have, at best, kept quiet about sign-stealing they have been around, or at best said, "Hey man, let's not do that" are now going absolutely bonkers over the Astros.

This is exactly why Manfred is right that it's not practical to punish former players (except perhaps for a few who can't plausibly deny taking part). We can't know who listened to the garbage cans and who ignored them. They will all say they ignored them. Should we give them the benefit of the doubt, or not?

And that brings me back to my previous point. The only way a player could completely exonerate themselves from participating in sign-stealing is to go public with it while it's happening, and we can't expect that.

Does this make me best buddies with Manfred? No. It is positively shameful that, in his desperate attempt to sweep this under the rug, he called the World Series trophy "a piece of metal." He's the commissioner of the league, saying that! It's the new standard in cynicism.

I don't want to sweep this under the rug, I just want to put it behind us. Manfred meted out his punishments, and needs to stand by them clearly and honestly. Saying something like that, which none of the players believes nor does he, exposes that he himself is, at the end of the day, a PR man and not a man of principle. If you say things you don't believe to burnish your arguments, you are not a man of principle.

So again, is there anything left to do now other than boo and snub? Can we get back to baseball now?

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