The Astros cheating scandal will long linger over baseball

Jamie C. Harris | 2/20/2020, 1:46 p.m.
Major League Baseball has a glorious history. It also has many shameful acts and heinous periods that are inextricably embedded ...
2017 American League MVP Jose Altuve celebrates his 2019 ALCS walk off homer against the Yankees. Contributed

Major League Baseball has a glorious history. It also has many shameful acts and heinous periods that are inextricably embedded in its lore. The “gentleman’s agreement,” an unwritten pact between owners not to sign Black players prior to Jackie Robinson breaking the League’s color barrier, in this writer’s view is far and away the most egregious stain on the game’s legacy.

Gambling scandals and the abuse of illegal performance-enhancing substances have also tainted baseball. The Houston Astros’ unethical use of technology to steal signs, helping them make it to the World Series in 2017, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers four games to three to become champions, and then surging to another Game 7 in the World Series last season, in which they lost to the Washington Nationals, has taken its place among the game’s ugliest episodes.

There have been severe consequences and fallout. Astros manager A.J. Hinch was suspended for one year by MLB and then fired by owner Jim Crane. General manager Jeff Luhnow was also suspended for one year and fired by Crane. The team forfeited their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two years and were fined five million dollars, the maximum monetary penalty allowed under the League’s constitution.

Furthermore, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who led the Sox to the 2018 World Series title, was fired by the Red Sox due to his role in conceptualizing and aiding in some of the cheating methods while he was the Astros bench coach in 2017.

Additionally, Carlos Beltrán, who was hired as the Mets’ new manager this past November and then effectively fired on January 16––his exit was referred to as a mutual parting––has seen his post-playing career in MLB critically damaged. Beltrán has been characterized as one of the leaders of the scandal while as a player for the Astros in 2017.

Even with the number of suspensions and firings, the scope of the penalties are still insufficient. No active player has been penalized. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred recently said he would have preferred to penalize players but they were granted immunity by the League in exchange for their transparent testimony during MLB’s investigation of the cheating allegations.

Manfred has been widely criticized for what can be construed as his shielding the Astros from the harsh outcry of people both inside and outside of baseball for their flagrant dishonoring of the basic tenets of fair play.

He also made a terrible public relations gaffe in an interview on ESPN on Sunday when the topic came up of players, fans and media suggesting––some more strongly demanding––that the Astros relinquish the 2017 World Series trophy. Manfred responded by degradingly calling it “a piece of metal. “ The embattled commissioner subsequently apologized but the damage was done.

No matter how sternly Manfred warns opposing teams not to exact vigilante justice against the Astros, baseball’s version of a Scarlet Letter is etched on the forehead of 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve.

The dynamic second baseman hit an improbable walk-off home run off of Yankees hard throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 of last year’s American League Championship Series to send the Astros to the World Series. The question of whether he was tipped off as to what pitch Chapman threw is a hotly debated topic.

Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, who finished second to Altuve in the 2017 MVP race, says the cheating by the Astros is a source of anger for him.

“When I heard that, I was just sick to my stomach,’’ Judge said Tuesday at the Yankees Spring Training facility in Tampa, Florida.

“Once it came out, I was pretty mad. I was pretty upset to know that we were probably cheated out of a possibility of making it to the World Series.”

“It didn’t only affect us as the Yankees,” he continued, “it affected the fans of the game. Other guys who lost their jobs because of it. Guys who went to Houston and got beat up and never made it back to the big leagues.

“You really can’t tolerate that. Guys who are going there and playing fair and square, and get beat up a little bit, now they’re out of a job because of it, that ain’t right.’’

It is a sentiment generally shared throughout baseball.