Let me be clear; there is no worse scandal in sports history than the Black Sox scandal. A whole team deciding to throw a game is something that we will probably and hopefully never see again. However, a few years ago, the closest thing to it occurred: the Astros scandal.
While the global baseball community has deeply condemned the actions, the administration of Major League Baseball did very little in the way of punishing the team, especially when considering how grand the cheating was. Fast forward a few years to 2021, and the MLB is still issuing questionable punishments out and trying to justify them when the Astros decision still looms in the background.
First, let’s get a better understanding of the magnitude of the Astros’ cheating; in 2017 and 2018, the Houston Astros used multiple communication methods to share with their hitters what pitch the opposing pitcher was throwing. This occurred at nearly every home game, including the playoffs and their 2017 championship run. The players have openly admitted this.
The punishment they received was historic for a team; Major League Baseball suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch each for one year. (However, in a press conference that afternoon, Astros owner Jim Crane announced that Luhnow and Hinch had been dismissed.) The Astros’ punishment also included a $5 million fine and the loss of their first- and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and ’21. But there is still something missing; where is the punishment for the players or the stripping of the World Series title?
Even the Little League World Series title was stripped from the Illinois team in 2014 when they found players from outside their district had competed with them. In that situation, the (children) players still had to win on their own, and still, the punishment was the removal of their title. With the Houston Astros, no title was removed or vacated. There was just a remark from the commissioner, which stated,
“They [Astros players] will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives, and frankly, it’s rare for any offense that you have a punishment you will live with for the rest of your life.”
While fans would hope that the MLB has cleaned up their actions since the Astros’ cheating, there is controversy surrounding one of the premier players in the league, Trevor Bauer. Some of his baseballs have been very publicly “collected” and sent to the MLB headquarters to be analyzed for foreign substances. Bauer has cried foul since these tests were supposed to be discreet and private until absolute proof was found of cheating, but that is not the angle I am taking.
No, the innate problem with this investigation and possible suspension for Bauer is the moral basis on which this will be handed. How can MLB look the players and fans in the eye and claim that this individual breaking the rules deserves a more severe punishment than a whole team and management conspiring to create an elaborate system in which to steal signs from the opposing team, changing the course of baseball history forever with a World Series win?
Not only that, but if the substance is found on the ball and identified as pine tar, then a suspension is handed down. This flies in the face of the fact that pine tar is notoriously used throughout the game. How many times do you notice a pitcher touching his hat or the inside of his glove? Probably to get some pine tar on his fingers. How about that time Yadier Molina had a ball get stuck to his chest protector? Surely no foreign substance has graced his pitcher’s baseballs.
If MLB were to strike down Bauer for the use of pine tar, what kind of example are they setting? Are they prepared to continue on this path? One where if a whole organization cheats by stealing signs in a bottom-to-top system of cheating face no permanent suspensions, none of the players face any punishment. However, if an individual cheats in a way that is used throughout the entire league, he earns him a suspension.
This double standard is problematic because of what MLB has decided to do. They must now seriously confront the situation they have put themselves in or have this double standard eat them all alive. It did not have to be this way, but by MLB choosing this route, they are now considering severely punishing a player that has committed a minor misdemeanor when a team that created a sophisticated system in which to steal signs has received a minor punishment.
What a bottom-of-the-9th-inning, no-outs, bases-loaded-up-by-one jam MLB is in.
Media by Joshua Heller.