Opinion: If Astros are guilty, MLB must strip World Series
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred wants to have the dog mess in H-Town cleaned up with a solution by the start of the 2020 season, but he is not saying much more about baseball’s Houston Enrons.
Here is what Mr. Manfred should say: If any of the Houston Astros management, scouts, managers or coaches knew of their alleged electronic sign-stealing measures, they are banned and never will be allowed to work in MLB again.
If MLB investigators discover that the Astros used the electronic measures to steal so much as a cup of coffee from the opposition during their 2017 World Series run, take away the trophy and ship it to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Unlike a batter or a hitter using steroids to improve his performance, what the Astros are alleged to have done is akin to management handing the needle to their players.
“Any allegation that relates to a rule violation that affects the outcome of a game is the most serious matter; it relates to the integrity of the sport,” Manfred said on Tuesday after he toured the new Texas Rangers stadium. These were his first public comments since news of this story broke.
“We have a very active, what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. Beyond that I can’t tell you how close we are (to a conclusion).”
Fans are numb to players and coaches cheating, but a sports league must rule with the power of Thor’s hammer to discipline when one of its own franchises brazenly violates the rules.
Starting with the PR fiasco that was disgraced assistant GM Brandon Taubman during the 2019 MLB playoffs, the Astros reek of an arrogant organization that is run not by baseball people but bratty Wall Street traders who value margin over life.
The Houston Astros are the Wall Street firm that commits insider trading and assumes, if they actually are caught, they will just have to pay a few fines to the SEC. It is only too appropriate that the Astros’ home used to be called Enron, a name synonymous with corporate greed, fraud and electronic manipulation of the numbers.
In Houston’s series with New York in the 2019 American League Championship Series, the Yankees accused the Astros of stealing signs, to which manager A.J. Hinch flatly denied.
Sign stealing has long been an accepted part of baseball gamesmanship, and those human measures are fine. They’re almost fun. Because they are human, and they may be wrong.
And then there is club-sponsored, and team-funded cheating using a HD monitor, and video system.
Per a report by veteran MLB reporter Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic, the Astros allegedly experimented with cameras, binoculars and other equipment to steal signs from the opposition.
This may be a widespread problem in MLB, but the Astros are the first club directly associated with it.
“We are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros,” Manfred said. “I’m not going to speculate if other people are involved. We will deal with that it if comes. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”
This is Manfred’s Kenesaw Mountain Landis/Bartlett Giamatti moment as MLB commissioner.
The 1919 Chicago Black Sox were banned by Landis for throwing World Series games. Giamatti banned Pete Rose for life because he bet on baseball; that decision was upheld by Manfred in 2015 when Rose appealed it.
The rampant steroid users in MLB who were dumb enough to actually get caught had the benefit of a collective bargaining agreement that left Manfred’s predecessor, Bud Selig, powerless to enforce major discipline.
It was not until enough players were fed up being associated with all of the steroid guys did the MLB Players Association and MLB agree to testing, and penalties against violators.
MLB’s previous embarrassments were all the result of a player trying to gain an edge. To throw a ball faster. To hit a ball farther. To recover more quickly. To, ultimately, perform better and sign a bigger contract.
There were no examples of management encouraging, and funding, the acts that violate the spirit of play.
A pro sports league is about entertainment, but the legitimacy of its product anchors around the perception that it is above some WWE-style script.
However this plays out, the Astros’ run of dominance is tarnished, only this feels worse than the New England Patriots and their SpyGate/DeflateGate narratives.
Manfred has been the MLB boss since he was elected in August 2014, and this will be a defining point in his tenure. By all accounts, this man does not screw around and is not some agreeable soul who is happy to have his job.
As much as he may like some of the people who work for the Houston Astros, the integrity of MLB’s battered brand is questioned. That’s his priority.
It’s one thing for a player to cheat, but quite another for the team to sponsor it.
If anyone with the club did it, they’re out. Forever. And the World Series trophy is gone, too.
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