Will Astros sign-stealing revelations lead MLB into a bottomless pit of scandals?

Will Astros sign-stealing revelations lead MLB into a bottomless pit of scandals?

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As Major League Baseball peels back the curtain on perhaps its most widespread “cheating” scandal since performance-enhancing drug use warped the field of play, there’s a key point it must ponder. 

Just how much does it want to find out about electronic sign-stealing?

As media scrutiny and the slow drip of MLB’s investigation into the Houston Astros turns up more bread crumbs leading to a possible trail of widespread organizational malfeasance, the league will face a push and pull within the game.

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The push: Heads must roll in Houston – be it a penalty of stripped draft picks or somebody taking the fall. Such obvious rules-flouting cannot go unchecked.

The pull: Well, what if everybody is/was doing it?

In less than a week, a group of whistleblowers have emerged in this scandal – beginning with former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who laid out specifics of a sign-stealing ring at Minute Maid Park that appears at least partially corroborated by video evidence.

Meanwhile, a current or former Astros employee – perhaps a scout, maybe a scorned executive – revealed that a front office employee emailed scouts en masse prior to the 2017 playoffs, requesting they experiment with cameras and see what might be picked up.

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ESPN identified the emailer as Kevin Goldstein, special assistant to GM Jeff Luhnow. Goldstein reportedly requested that scouts see about “picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can [or can’t] do and report back your findings.”

The email adds a wrinkle to the flap that can range from curious to highly consequential. The “suggestion” was not a blatant breaking of rules, particularly with baseball’s narrower definition of video surveillance at the time, but certainly pushes to the edge of them. Scouts are invited into other ballparks to sample the opposition’s menu and glean what they can from the buffet, not to steal their finest china.

At the least, though, it connects a significant dot in an organizational chain that fairly screams that sign-stealing – by any means – was a high priority as the 2017 postseason dawned.

Did Goldstein act alone, or was he prodded to send that email by a savvier superior looking to keep his hands clean? Combine Fiers’ allegations, Goldstein’s email and the inconclusive but still illuminating Internet sleuthing by the redoubtable @Jomboy_ and a floating group of puzzle pieces begin to coalesce.

Consider one of the guiding principles of any investigation – what did they know and when did they know it? Almost any cheating scandal can happen in a vacuum, but at this point, it seems there are fewer corners of the Astros organization that couldn’t have known about it.

Players, accepting the signs. Managers and coaches, who if they made the trip from dugout to clubhouse could practically trip over a bunker with a table, TV screen and a moat of sunflower-seed shells, shielded from public view by strategically placed towels.

And now, front office members, perhaps too eager to glean one of the last remaining edges in the game.

MLB’s investigation ramped up last week and will continue apace. At this point, though you wonder if it’s likelier to fall into a bottomless pit than reach a natural conclusion.

The “don’t snitch” ethos of baseball clubhouses and unwritten rules has taken some broadside blows, largely thanks to Fiers, who has since received significant backing from other players disgusted by the Astros’ alleged malpractice. And it’s hardly surprising a former employee would dish on the front office, given the many industry enemies the Astros have made with their rapid turnover and marginalization of traditional scouts.

It would be surprising if the Astros somehow avoided significant penalties, be it draft picks, a hefty fine or an actor or two assigned to take the fall for the group.

And then what?

In this age when intellectual property is considered the game’s greatest asset, front-office talent changes organizations more than at any other time – be it from bench coach to manager, “quant” to assistant GM, special assistant to GM or everyone’s white whale – czar of baseball operations.

Not all secrets are taken to the grave.

Perhaps the Astros are the club all others want to see go down. At the same time, if retribution sets back one organization, why not rat out another? And perhaps this scandal ends up resembling the final scene from Reservoir Dogs.

Or maybe it ends in Houston, where the shamelessness was palpable and the rule-bending too easy to call out.

Either way, MLB may discover a new landscape throughout this journey – one in which the witnesses may be far willing to flip.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Astros sign-stealing revelations lead MLB into a bottomless pit of scandals?

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