If those who orchestrated a scandalous system aren’t going to be punished, then their greatest big-league accomplishment should be permanently condemned: Major League Baseball should revoke the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series championship.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has stood by his initial punishment to the Astros for illegal sign-stealing practices. This includes a $5 million fine, former manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow being suspended for a year without pay, and the team surrendering its 2020 and 2021 first-round draft selections.
Manfred and MLB continue to come under fire. Why? They granted Astros players “blanket immunity” to serve as witnesses in the sport’s investigation.
In a Tuesday press conference in Arizona (quotes are provided by The Athletic’s Evan Drellich), Manfred said that providing the players with this leeway was pivotal in getting cooperation.
“We went back and suggested to them we would give them an initial list of people — players — that we would grant immunity to, preserving our ability to discipline other players,” Manfred said. “And the union came back and said that players would cooperate only if there was blanket immunity. Because we were at a bit of a stalemate, we knew we needed player witnesses, we agreed to that immunity agreement.”
Manfred later said “we would not have gotten where we got in terms of understanding the facts, learning the facts, disclosing the facts, if we hadn’t reached that agreement.”
The MLB Players Association responded, saying “Any suggestion that the Association failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate is completely untrue.”
Cool, so either the commissioner of baseball or the MLBPA is lying about how they handled one of the most detrimental investigations in the history of the sport.
Manfred also publicly confirmed that the reported garbage-can banging took place in the 2017 postseason (quotes are from Sports Illustrated’s Ben Pickman).
“Garbage can signaling went on during the 2017 postseason,” Manfred said. “There was conflicting evidence on that point. In an investigation you often have conflicting evidence and it was my view that the more credible evidence was that they continued to use this scheme in the postseason.”
Meanwhile, shortstop Carlos Correa confirmed to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal that the Astros banged garbage cans to help relay signs in the 2017 season and that it provided them with an advantage, which is odd considering how team owner Jim Crane asserted that it “didn’t impact the game.”
Disconnect and arrogance highlight the way the Astros have conducted themselves over the last three months, and it seems to get worse whenever someone talks.
First of all, they didn’t care about their actions because they kept doing it. The only reason they’re sorry is that they got caught. If you cheat, don’t get caught, and win the World Series, you’re going to shut down the operation the ensuing season?
Cheating has been going on in Houston in some capacity over the last three years. While the 2018 and 2019 seasons have become a bit of a gray area, all the evidence we need to know that something fishy was going on was teams and players informing the Washington Nationals to be aware of whistling, flashing lights, and signs coming from the train tracks in Minute Maid Park leading up to the World Series. Did the Nationals employ multiple signs to get around the Astros’ illegal sign stealing just for the fun of it?
Several high-profile players have spoken out whether it be to rant about their practices or to provide insight on the matter. Mike Trout (the 2019 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner), Cody Bellinger (the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player Award winner), Max Scherzer, Aaron Judge, Kris Bryant, Justin Turner, and Trevor Bauer, among many others have expressed contempt and disavowed the Astros.
Worst of all? Players aren’t held accountable in any way. Of course, whenever the Astros go on the road, they’re going to hear it from fans and maybe players; that’s a given. That’s it, though. In fact, they’re being protected. They were granted immunity for telling their version of truth, and Manfred has made it clear to teams that there will be no tolerance for pitching inside to Astros players.
This was a player-driven scheme. The Commissioner’s report, which the Astros love to tell the public to look at, supports this. While Hinch and Luhnow enabled the situation, it seems they weren’t the most prevalent instigators, meaning their players got them fired. Those who were the direct culprits aren’t being suspended or fined.
When a player gets busted for using performance-enhancing drugs they get suspended. Apparently when players bang trash cans to alert others that an off-speed pitch is coming they get immunity and a free pass.
Sure, MLB is going to keep a keen eye on technology across its 30 big-league ballparks, but how are Astros players suffering? Their paychecks are still seven figures, and they get to play in a storied sport.
Houston keeps pushing the notion that they earned their World Series championship. They just so happened to have an outfield camera zoomed in on the opposing team’s catcher to detect how many fingers they were putting down which resulted in the banging of a trash can to indicate that an off-speed pitch was coming. By the way, that image was projected into the Astros dugout.
Houston seems to be taking the approach of talking about how they learned from their mistakes and are trying to put this situation behind them. Wow, that’s moving. Actually, that’s not the way it works.
The perpetrator doesn’t get to dictate when the people they harm move on from their actions. The New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Tampa Bay Rays, among others who lost close playoff series to the Astros since 2017 are wondering what they may have been cheated out of.
People lost their jobs. Players were sent down to the minor leagues and never made it back. Championship hopes were disintegrated. That pain doesn’t just go away.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo brings up a great point (quote is from ESPN) in saying “Somebody’s got to say the words over there: ‘cheated.’ And that’s important to me.”
Some players are “apologizing” for what they did, saying they had an advantage, but won’t say they “cheated” when getting an illegal advantage is exactly as such.
When you remove a title from a college university or professional sports team, it doesn’t eliminate what happened. If you attended a playoff game you were still there, and stats were tracked from those events. At the same time, MLB has put itself in a situation where there’s little they can do to satisfy fans and proportionately penalize the Astros.
Many feel the Astros are being let off the hook and rightfully so. They’re gradually admitting what went on in 2017, and Manfred has said they were committing the reported malpractice. Few, if any will ever take their championship seriously, and there’s no reason for MLB to feel any differently.
No action can offset what the Houston Astros have done, but MLB taking permanent action would be stronger than any message fans, players, and the media could send.