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Astros scandal: Roy Hobbs gets sucker punched

There shouldn’t be any Major League Baseball World Series winner for 2017.

World Series championship parade and rally
Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa holding up the championship trophy during the World Series championship parade and rally at Houston City Hall.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
There shouldn’t be any Major League Baseball World Series winner for 2017.

In case you missed the story, the 2017 Houston Astros seem to have been aided in their quest for the World Series title by stealing the signs the catchers and pitchers were interchanging in regard to pitches about to be thrown. This sign stealing scheme with the Astros was so complicated that every level of the team, from front office to coaches to the players, was involved. We know there was a spreadsheet database the Astros used to keep track of the opposing pitchers, and there are allegations of a buzzer system worn by some players, giving them a heads up to what pitch was about to be thrown. Other players were keyed off by whistles and banging garbage cans.

All you have to do is look at the Astros stats to see something was going on. The Astros weren’t even close to the same team on the road as they were at home. While it’s not illegal for a batter to try to look for certain “tells” a pitcher has to try to give him an idea of what kind of pitch is coming, it’s illegal for a baseball team as an organization to install an entire system to give the home team the undeniable advantage of knowing what pitch was about to be thrown. They cheated!  Many members of the 2017 Astros have now admitted they were stealing signs.  They should not be able to keep the World Series title they cheated to win, but Major League Baseball is going to allow them to.

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The defense the Astros are putting forward is that knowing what pitch is coming doesn’t necessarily mean they had an advantage. You could fertilize Texas with that. Not only will a hitter have the ability to score runs, knowing what pitch is coming allows them to turn strike three (and the end of the at bat) into a foul (and another chance). Strike outs become hits or walks. Pitchers are no longer facing three batters, but five or six. The pitch count grows from 12 to 15 up to 25 to 30. Knowing what pitch was coming allowed the Astros to grind down the opposing pitching staffs, turning loses into wins.

This teamwide corruption elevates the crime to a level of “nuclear option,” the stripping of the championship trophy. This wasn’t an individual player abusing drugs or getting a DWI, where the punishment is for the player as the individual. When Pete Rose was caught betting on baseball, you still didn’t punish the team as a whole because this was a case where a single individual was responsible for the questionable decisions. They threw the book at Rose, banning him for life, but that’s because his individual offenses actually did shatter the integrity of the game. The punishment fit the crime.

What about steroids and performance enhancing drugs (PED’s)? Once again, it is cheating, giving a player an unfair advantage, but it was individuals, not some teamwide PED program. For that, you need to look at Russian Olympics teams.

Matthew McNeil
Matthew McNeil
Major League Baseball had only one other scandal of this magnitude: the 1919 Chicago White Sox, or as they are still referred to today, the Black Sox. In that scandal, eight Chicago White Sox players conspired to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate. The Black Sox threw the series so there was no real way to strip the title from the Reds. The eight players were banned from baseball for life, and the team was brandished with a black eye that still tarnishes the White Sox today.

But as opposed to the 1919 White Sox, the Astros used their cheating to WIN! We know the Astros cheated by stealing the pitching signs. We have evidence of the entire organization being involved. We have Astros players admitting there was a scheme in place. We have the statistics which show the Astros indeed benefited from the sign stealing. When MLB made the decision to allow the Astros to keep the 2017 pennant, they proudly proclaimed, “You can cheat to win.”

Shame on Major League Baseball! How dare it allow this title to stand. To avoid admitting a team broke the rules, it’s trying to sweep its sport’s eroded integrity under the rug. MLB decided to forever stain baseball. If it lets this title stand, it will never be able to claim its product is legitimate again.

The 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox might be just as guilty of cheating the same exact way. If so, I’m sure baseball will sweep that under the rug too. Then they can insist that having two of the last three World Series titles awarded to cheaters somehow emphasizes baseball’s purity. In the end, baseball will not die due to the sport itself, but rather it will be killed by the people whose job it is to preserve its virtue.

Matthew McNeil is the host of the Matt McNeil show, weekdays at 3 p.m. on AM950, KTNF.


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