BASEBALL’S NEWEST CHEATING SCANDAL

In 1919, major league baseball suffered through the so-called “Black Sox Scandal”, in which members of the Chicago White Sox were bribed to intentionally lose that year’s world series.

Eight members of the White Sox were banned from baseball for life, including at least one (“Shoeless Joe” Jackson – a .356 lifetime hitter) who almost certainly would have been in the Hall Of Fame.

And now, a century later, we have this – excerpted from Neil Vigdor’s article in the New York Times:

The Houston Astros, coming off World Series appearances in two of the past three seasons and a championship in 2017, fired both their manager and general manager on Monday after the franchise was fined $5 million and docked several top draft picks for a sign-stealing scheme.

The team’s dismissal of Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow came a little over an hour after they were suspended for one year by Robert D. Manfred, the Major League Baseball commissioner.

The league’s attention is expected to turn to almost certain disciplinary action against Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 and is now the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Since the 2014 season, Major League Baseball has given managers one chance per game to challenge a call on the field using a video replay system, but not balls and strikes. Each team has a video replay review room, including the Astros, who M.L.B. investigators said used the center-field camera feed to steal opponents’ signs.

Early in that season, which culminated with a World Series title for the Astros, the bench coach, Cora, would call the video review room to get the signs. On some occasions, the signs were relayed via text messages to either a smartphone in the dugout or a smartwatch of a staff member, the report said.

Cora eventually arranged for a television monitor to be installed immediately outside the Astros’ dugout with the center-field camera feed on it for the players to watch, M.L.B. investigators said. The players then banged on a trash can with a bat or a massage device known as a Theragun once or twice to signal to the batter to be ready for a curveball or other off-speed pitch. If it was a fastball, they would not bang on the trash can.

Is this truly a scandal?  And, if so, how big a scandal is it?

Let’s start with the fact that, as a matter of course, major league players try to “cheat” in numerous ways.

One way is to catch a “trapped ball” (i.e. a ball that bounces just before being caught but would be difficult for an umpire to see) and pretend it was caught on the fly.  Another is for a catcher to move his glove in a way that makes a pitch outside the strike zone look like it was a strike.

And then there is sign-stealing – which, until now, has been done through a number of on-field means, and is considered nothing more than part of the game.

But using that video room?  Using electronic devices there to insure the game was called correctly and pervert their use into this kind of cheating?

It’s hard not to conclude that this was way, way beyond the line.

So now the Houston Astros’ manager and general manager are fired.  And, it seems inevitable, so will Alex Cora, who currently is manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Will they ever find their way back into baseball?  We can’t know for sure, but I’d bet that the answer is not for a number of years, if at all.

Will the Houson Astros be stripped of their 2017 World Series title?  Will the players be able to proudly wear those world series rings?

I don’t see how.  Do you?

And – maybe the biggest question – is what you just read the end of this ugly episode?  Or is more to come, involving other players – not necessarily among the Astros or Red Sox?

Stay tuned.

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