After slapping a couple of wrists in the sign-stealing fiasco that helped win a World Series, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball returned to his obsession with such weighty issues as pace of play and the number of minor league teams.
That commissioner, Rob Manfred, started his career as an assistant to Bud Selig, and both of them presided over the steroid era of juiced players (as opposed to the more current juiced balls). Manfred’s weak response to the Houston Astros’ calculated and organized cheating should be the final straw that costs him his job as well as his $11 million salary.
In an article in The Athletic, Mike Fiers, who now pitches for the Oakland Athletics, first revealed the Astros’ organized and concerted efforts to steal catchers’ signs. Attempting to steal signs has been part of the sport for decades, but Houston’s effort went far beyond a guy on second trying to signal to the batter. After all, if the batter knows which pitch is coming, he’ll be ready for it.
The ensuing investigation revealed that the Astros’ batters had the advantage of a video feed from a center field camera relayed to players through whistling, yelling, clapping, and even banging a trash can. No wonder, the team’s batting line in the 2017 postseason at home went from .273/.343/.519/.862 to .208/.284/.347/.632 on the road.
MLB released the report detailing the Astros’ illegal system on January 13, fined the team a measly $5 million, eliminated the team’s first-round draft picks for this year and next, and suspended manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Astros owner, Jim Crane, fired both that day.
In the meantime, the trophy stays in Houston. Moreover, the league did not discipline any players or take back the extra $400,000 paid to recipients of full shares. Crane actually claimed that the sign-stealing did not impact the game but quickly backtracked, saying he didn’t say what he said. In the meantime, players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman mumbled through brief half apologies.
Those of us watching at home during the playoffs in 2017, celebrated the acquisition of pitcher Justin Verlander as the move that put the Astros over the top. Pitcher Dillon Gee would beg to differ. Shortly after facing the Astros in June that year and getting roughed up, the Texas Rangers (his third organization) showed him the door.
Other pitchers have also been adversely affected by the scheme. Former Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger has not had a job since he faced the Astros in August 2017. He recently filed a lawsuit seeking to relieve the Astros of their ill-gotten gains estimated at about $31 million in bonuses, money which would be rerouted not to his pocket but to programs helping children in the Los Angeles area as well as retired players.
The reigning National League Most Valuable Player Cody Bellinger also had harsh words for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ opponents in the 2017 World Series, which he shared through ESPN: “I thought Jim Crane’s (apology) was weak, giving (the players) immunity. Those guys were cheating for three years. I think people don’t realize (Jose) Altuve stole an MVP from (Aaron) Judge in 017. Everyone knows they stole a ring from us.”
Players like Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs argue that the sign-stealing scheme hurt the sport far more than steroid use ever did. Entire teams did not use PEDs, and no teams actively encouraged juicing. Pete Rose, who has been banished from baseball, asked to be reinstated, emphasizing that he never tainted the game itself as he only bet on his own team to win.
In the meantime, Manfred has moved on to what he apparently considers more important issues, such as pace of play, his obsession during his tenure as commissioner. So far, he’s reduced mound visits and instated a three-batter minimum for each pitcher (thereby putting lefty specialists out of work). Many more minor league players will be affected by his growing interest in eliminating as many as 42 teams, as will the towns and fans of contracted teams.
Manfred has also floated a proposed change in the playoff format, perhaps hoping it will provide a distraction from a cheating scandal that brings into question at least one World Series championship. According to this proposal, seven teams in each league would advance to the postseason. Division winners would actually select their opponents, live, on television – sort of like a game show.
Jason Foster of sportingnews.com reacted accordingly, “With every new and nutty proposal to change Major League Baseball, I inevitably reach the same conclusion: Rob Manfred sure seems to find baseball in its traditional sense absolutely abhorrent.”
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, never one to shy away from expressing his opinion, responded that Manfred’s “proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on twitter and proves you (Manfred) have absolutely no clue about baseball.”
Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius also spoke for fans of the grand old game as well as players by asking. “Why are we changing this loveable sport so much” on Twitter.
Major League Baseball should be run by a man or a woman who loves the game. It’s past time for Major League Baseball to replace the current commissioner with just such a person.