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Some ways to deal with cheaters

Cheating is wrong.

We’re told this from a very young age. From the time we’re able to walk and talk, our elders emphasize that you shouldn’t cheat. Whether it be at board games, tests at school or the sports you play.

Yet for some people, those types of morals go out the window when they reach adulthood. They’ll rig game shows, sneak in answers for exams, take performance-enhancing drugs, use ineligible players, even lose on purpose simply to make extra cash.

It’s disappointing each time it happens and it sometimes makes you ask ‘Why am I playing the right way when others take advantage of it?’ It doesn’t seem worth it at times to do the right thing and play by the rules when you can win championships more easily by cheating.

The Houston Astros are a team that found itself in a situation like this two years ago. If they hesitated about cheating, it certainly wasn’t for very long.

I’ve written about the Astros a couple times before last year, but here’s a recap for those of you who aren’t baseball fans. Back in 2017, Houston won the World Series for the first time ever, coming from behind to beat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and then defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games during the World Series.

It was a fun story as the Astros were one of the worst teams in baseball a few years before that and it gave Houston a chance to celebrate after some devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey a couple months before.

For Michiganders, it also was a moment to celebrate as longtime Tigers pitcher and fan favorite Justin Verlander finally got a World Series ring. It seems like the majority of baseball fans, outside of maybe New York and southern California, seemed happy for Houston, including myself.

And then two years later we find out they were cheating the whole time. Former Astros and Tigers and current Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers went public and told The Athletic that Houston was stealing signs during its title-winning season.

Now the idea of sign-stealing has been around baseball for years. Players will try to figure out what signs are delivered from the catcher to the pitcher like fastballs, curveballs, changeups, etc. Opposing players will then relay those signs to the batter to increase their chances of getting on base and it can be done in legal and illegal ways.

A legal way would be if, for example, a baserunner notices a fastball will be thrown and he subtly signals the batter. An illegal way would be using technology, high-tech or not, to accomplish the feat like using a telescope as the Giants did in 1951 or an Apple Watch like the Red Sox did in 2017.

What the Astros did was definitely in the illegal category. They had a camera focus in on the catcher, a computer monitor with a live feed in the tunnel between Houston’s dugout and clubhouse, and then players would bang on any nearby garbage can to signal the hitter.

According to CBS Sports, the Astros’ methods kept advancing over the course of the year, starting with a center field camera decoding signs and signaling the dugout, where someone would tell the second-base runner and he’d in turn signal the batter.

Houston then added the live feed and the garbage can idea a couple months into the season. The Astros tried to whistle and clap first before going with the trash can method. They continued to do so into the playoffs, even after they and all the other teams were warned a month before not to steal signs using electronics.

All of this is bad, but I’m guessing the last thing was what really ticked off Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Earlier this week, after a lengthy investigation, Manfred hammered the Astros with general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and former assistant GM Brandon Taubman getting suspended for a year. Houston was also fined $5 million, the maximum allowed, and lost first- and second-round draft picks the next two years. Luhnow and Hinch were then fired by the Astros.

Now, Manfred and the league have to look at the Boston Red Sox, who have been accused of sign-stealing during the regular season in their championship year in 2018.

Interestingly enough, manager Alex Cora was the Astros’ bench coach during the 2017 season. Cora is heavily implicated in the Astros’ scandal, accused of calling down to the video room to get signs along with helping to develop the garbage-can communication method.

He’s yet to be punished by MLB since the Red Sox are under investigation, but he was fired by Boston this week. It’s hard to say what Manfred is going to do, but Cora will be punished and it’s gonna be stiff, potentially even worse than what Luhnow, Hinch and Taubman got since Cora has been implicated in two scandals.

The question now is did the league do enough in punishing the Astros. The punishments to Luhnow, Hinch and Taubman were good, as were the fines and loss of draft picks. However, none of the players involved were punished, just management. Considering this whole mess was almost completely led by the players, you’d think suspensions and fines would be warranted.

Also, the Astros are going to be able to keep their World Series rings and trophy, even though they cheated to get it. You can make the case that they should be taken away and given to the Dodgers instead. The L.A. City Council sure thinks so as they’re planning to vote on a resolution asking MLB to “recall” the trophies won by Houston and Boston and give them to the Dodgers. I’m not a fan of this idea, as we may find out later that the Dodgers could have done the same thing.

However, I am in favor of a different punishment. Like Lisa Simpson once exclaimed on The Simpsons, “Asterisk, asterisk!” MLB should keep the Astros’ championship in the record books, but attach an asterisk stating that they cheated.

Houston’s title is already tainted in the minds of just about everyone, and by attaching that symbol it’ll be tainted officially. If Manfred rules that the Red Sox behaved the same way, their championship should get the same treatment.

Hey, if the NCAA can vacate wins and banners, and the Olympics can strip you of your medals, MLB can at least attach an asterisk.

What the Astros did was wrong and they needed to be made an example of. And they were, sort of. But MLB needs to do more. It needed to strongly send a message to its teams and an asterisk would’ve been perfect. An asterisk says cheating is wrong and now you’ll be known as cheaters forever.

We’re taught that lesson as kids, but now, it looks like we need a reminder.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.