The Houston Astros Cheating Scandal

Houston Astros
HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 22: Houston Astros logo in the outfield in the eighth inning during an MLB baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Kansas City Royals, Friday, June 22, 2018 in Houston, Texas. Kansas City Royals defeated Houston Astros 1-0. (Photo by: Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Houston Astros Cheating Scandal

In the aftermath of the Houston Astros cheating scandal, Major League Baseball handed down one of the stiffest penalties they have ever given to a franchise. In total the Astros were fined five million dollars, the forfeiture of their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts, and the one-year suspensions of manager AJ Hinch, general manager Jeff Luhnow, and former assistant GM Brandon Taubman.

The ripple effect continues, as Astros owner Jim Crane immediately fired Hinch and Luhnow. Taubman was fired this past October for making insensitive comments regarding closer Roberto Osuna’s domestic abuse incident. The attention now shifts to the Boston Red Sox and their now ex-manager Alex Cora as Major League Baseball continues to lay down the law to any team that cheats.

Commissioner’s Message

Were these penalties stiff enough? Could Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down a more harsh penalty? Are the penalties handed down enough to prevent other teams from cheating? The answer to all these questions is NO.

As the world of Major League Baseball fans, players, and organizations are now picking up the pieces, the voices are speaking loud and clear. New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers fan bases are in uproars over lost opportunities to win a World Series championship.

Major League Baseball, who has been trying to bring back the fans that were lost due to the PED epidemic, has now suffered another black eye for the sport. Commissioner Manfred acted swiftly with as harsh a penalty as he could and was also true to his word. He stated the responsibility would fall on the people in charge of this scandal. That was Hinch — the manager — and Luhnow, the GM.

The Penalties

A five million dollar fine to an owner and organization worth many times more than that might not seem high enough for most people. It’s right to think that way. It is peanuts to Jim Crane. But it is the maximum amount that MLB is allowed to fine an organization. Could or should Commissioner Manfred have changed the rule before ruling on this scandal? Maybe he should have.

The loss of draft picks might not seem like a big deal to some baseball fans. After all, if an NFL franchise lost their first two draft picks in a seven-round draft it would be disastrous for their immediate future. But in the world of Major League Baseball, is it really that big of a deal? The Major League Amateur Draft is 40 rounds, not counting compensatory picks. The Astros rebuilt their team largely through the draft by essentially tanking and trading away higher-priced players. If you don’t think having first round picks is important, just look at the Astros roster.

In 2011 George Springer was the 11th overall pick. In 2012 Carlos Correa was the first overall pick, and in 2015 Alex Bregman was the second overall pick. Those three players are among the brightest stars in the game. The Astros mastered this process so much that other teams are looking to copy this blueprint. So yes, losing draft picks is a very big deal.

No Player Suspensions

Handing down suspensions is always tricky. Immediately after Hinch and Luhnow were suspended Houston Astros owner Jim Crane cut them loose. It remains to be seen if either of them will ever get a job in baseball again. Those were the only individuals that Commissioner Manfred could penalize. Jim Crane is not going to get rid of his best players even if they were the ones driving this scandal.

It seems like every baseball fan outside of Houston is calling for player suspensions, and perhaps this is one of the biggest backlashes the commissioner is dealing with. In Commissioner Manfred’s report, he does say that he made the decision in September of 2017 that no player will be penalized based on the difficulty to investigate each player and determine which players did what. Additionally, some of those players are now on different teams.

But there is one important factor that these fans are not thinking about. The MLBPA has a Collective Bargaining Agreement with MLB that basically strips Commissioner Manfred of a lot of his power to hand down suspensions. How many times does MLB hand down a suspension to players only to see them get appealed and eventually reduced or removed? It is not realistic to think MLB will suspend the bulk of the Astros roster and just bring up the Triple-A team to fill in.

PEDs Issue

When MLB first discovered the players were using PEDs they were powerless to do anything. Now there is an established rule in the CBA with significant penalties to both the players using and the teams they play for. Commissioner Manfred knew that if he went after the players without any language in the CBA to back him up this would be a waste of time. The MLBPA would take them to court where they always win. It is more important for Commissioner Manfred to hand out penalties that can’t be appealed or reduced. It would not be surprising if the next contract with the MLBPA will have preset penalties for cheating.

Stripping of Championships

There has been a public outcry to strip both the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox of their championships. This is not and never will be a real possibility. In the college ranks, the NCAA has stripped teams of their championships or victories in some cases. But it is usually due to illegal recruiting. Even if MLB stripped the Astros or Red Sox of their championships, would they declare the World Series losing team the World Champs? Or would there be no champion that season? The last time MLB did not have a World Series Champion was back in 1994 during the strike year.

When players were breaking long-standing offensive records during the steroid era, has the MLB not recognized those records? There is no asterisk next to the names of Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire for breaking the single-season HR record set by Roger Maris.

Back in 1919 with the Black Sox scandal. The players admitted throwing the World Series. Did MLB strip the Reds of that championship? Were the statistics from that World Series removed from the record book?

The only significant penalty was that newly appointed Commissioner Judge Landis banned those players for life. Landis was given absolute power and made that rule on his own without consent from the owners. Once the MLBPA was created any commissioner was powerless to hand down such a ruling.

Jim Crane

One could make the case that Houston Astros owner Jim Crane should have been suspended. I mean, it is his franchise. He owns it and is ultimately responsible for everything and everyone in it. Should he be suspended even if he had nothing to do with it or had no prior knowledge that it was happening? In the history of professional sports, when an owner gets suspended it is due to something he or she personally did. Not what someone in his organization did.

Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was suspended for making racist remarks. In the NBA Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was forced to sell the franchise due to his racist behavior. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was suspended for paying 40,000 dollars to gambler Howard Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. There are many other examples of owner misconduct that led to suspensions. But not because of someone they employ cheating during a game.

Other Possible Penalties

There are other penalties Commissioner Manfred could have considered or now put into place if this should happen again. The Astros could be stripped of their international signing budget. This would prevent the Astros from signing the top international free agents that are looking to become Major League players. The amount of the fine could be much higher. We can all agree that five million dollars is not much of a penalty, especially for an organization that is worth more than a billion dollars.

Perhaps the Houston Astros could lose home games, although this penalty hurts the fan base who are innocent bystanders. Would MLB want to punish the Astros fans from seeing their favorite players? They could just have the Astros just lose the gate and concessions from a specific number of home dates. The money made during those games could be given to charity or other worthwhile funds.

One thing is sure though. Commissioner Manfred is now forced to devise a more severe punishment for players who cheat and make concessions to get it approved by the MLBPA. The latter is going to be the hard part.

Outlook

Sign stealing is a time-honored tradition that goes back to the earliest years of baseball. Players often times study videos of opposing pitchers looking for advantages. Maybe the pitcher is tipping his pitches. When a runner is on second base he is always trying to steal the signs and signal to their teammate’s at-bat. There are always eyes on bench coaches or third base coaches as they are relaying signs. Should all of this be illegal?

What the Astros did took this to another level. But do we know if it actually worked? Everyone knew what pitch Mariano Rivera was throwing and he was still unhittable. Same with other pitchers like Randy Johnson or even Aroldis Chapman. But yes knowing what pitch is coming is a huge advantage.

Some are saying baseball has lost its purity. That purity was lost a long time ago. This is just another black eye to America’s past time. Baseball still has not recovered from the steroid scandal. But this has rocked the baseball world in a much different way. Only two teams have been implicated and is it a coincidence that both won the World Series?

We can only hope that baseball can recover from this latest scandal and that only two teams were using these methods.

 

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