If it seems like the Astros’ cheating scandal gets worse every day, well, you aren’t wrong. At every opportunity to make things better, the chief stakeholders insist instead on doubling down with maddening arrogance or ignorance.
To understand how we got to this place of misery, with the sign-stealing scandal threatening to hover over the entire 2020 season, we really need to enumerate all the instances where it could have been either stopped in its tracks or had its severity curtailed.
• According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, the electronic sign stealing dates back to late in the 2016 season, when a member of the Astros organization developed an algorithm called “Codebreaker.”
Any number of higher-ups with the Astros could have shut this thing down in its tracks. But they didn’t, ostensibly because they 1) didn’t think they would get caught and 2) knew how much the illegally obtained pitch information could help them win.
• This information made its way to the players, who also could have shut it down. Someone — anyone — could have taken a stand. Instead, players went along with it and participated in the banging on a trash can to signal to the batter at the plate what pitch was coming.
The Wall Street Journal story reported that this happened at both home and away games in 2017 and 2018. The Astros, of course, won the World Series in 2017.
• Once Major League Baseball caught on to all this — or at least finally decided to do something about it — it levied punishments that seemed extreme on the surface. Among them: Loss of draft picks, a $5 million fine and one-year suspensions for manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow, who were fired shortly thereafter.
But nothing was done to the players who actively participated in the scheme, and the Astros were allowed to keep their 2017 championship, enraging plenty of fans, opposing players and anyone with common sense or a thirst for justice. Had MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred worked to levy harsher penalties, we wouldn’t be here now.
• But at least Astros players had a chance to come clean. In their first public comments about a week after MLB released its investigation, though, they instead struck either defiant or dismissive tones.
“The commissioner made his report, made his decision, the Astros made their decision and no further comment on it,” third baseman Alex Bregman said at the team’s fanfest, coming nowhere near an apology.
You get one chance to be sorry. The Astros failed mightily at that chance, rendering any subsequent chances meaningless.
• That said, new manager Dusty Baker and owner Jim Crane had a chance to do some damage control a week ago. Instead, Crane said this: “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series. We’ll leave it at that.”
That … didn’t help. It wasn’t long after, coinciding with the opining of spring training in several angry places, that several top players started blasting the Astros and Manfred.
• Manfred then made things worse with another ham-handed interview Sunday. “Retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated,” Manfred said as part of it, which is prudent policy for safety but ridiculous when considering a pitcher seeking justice would be potentially punished more than a player who stole a World Series.
But don’t worry. I’m sure this will all get better when the investigation into whatever the Red Sox did to cheat on the way to the 2018 World Series is wrapped up soon.