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Houston Astros’ scandal clouds Major League Baseball’s future

Ryan Stieg

The start of spring training in the past week should be marked as a fun occasion.

Major League Baseball teams descend on Florida and Arizona looking to start fresh with potential new players, while fans get to appreciate the fact that the warm comfort of spring is on the horizon and we might escape the cold, gloomy winter.

While we might be able to escape the cold weather, the feeling of gloom will linger throughout this season and possibly beyond.

That’s because the Houston Astros cheated. There’s no other way to put it. An MLB franchise illegally stole signs during games during their 2017 World Series championship season as well as the following regular season.

The basics of the scandal have been well publicized, but here’s a quick overview. In January, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed that the Astros stole signs using a video camera system developed by bench coach Alex Cora, star player Carlos Beltran and other team members.

One or more players would watch the game on a live feed behind the dugout and decipher the opponent’s pitching signs (fastball, curveball, changeup, etc.). They would transmit the information to the dugout and then dugout players would signal the batter through various ways, but the most famous one was hitting a trash can with a bat for certain pitches.

The signals would also be transmitted to baserunners on second base, who would signal the batter. As we all know, Manfred fined the Astros the maximum amount allowed under the league constitution ($5 million), forfeited Houston’s first- and second-round draft picks this year and next year, and suspended general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for the entire season and playoffs.

Those two were then quickly fired by Houston owner Jim Crane. Cora, who was then-manager of the Red Sox when the investigation concluded, and Beltran, the new manager of the Mets, were also let go by their respective franchises.

Since Manfred made his ruling, the response has been heavily negative. Most people said that the commissioner should’ve punished the players involved as well, but they were granted immunity for cooperating in the investigation.

Some have said that the Astros should be stripped of their championship as they didn’t win the title fair and square. This cry for vengeance became even stronger after Crane and some of the Houston players attempted to give some half-hearted attempts at apologies.

Crane had the most asinine statement of all about the sign-stealing scandal, saying “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

Fifty-five seconds after saying that, Crane then said “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.” So which was it Jim? If Crane truly believed that what the Astros did didn’t affect the game, then why did they waste so much time doing it? Why would you go through batting practice before games or shag balls in the outfield?

At the same time, if he believes what his team did in fact impact the game, does he feel bad about it? Anybody who contradicts themselves that quickly either lacks any public relations training, has no clue what they’re talking about, or both. I’m guessing it’s the third one.

Some people say the Astros should not only be stripped of their title, but it should be given to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who they beat in the World Series that year. The L.A. city council even passed a resolution asking MLB to do that.

I’ve written before how I’m not a fan of that idea because if news got out that L.A. was cheating that season, it would make that decision pointless. However, I’ve also written that if Manfred won’t snatch away Houston’s championship, then it should at least apply an asterisk to the record books.

Why? Because the Astros’ title is tainted. Nobody outside of Houston fans thinks that the Astros’ championship is legitimate and people won’t remember that team for being great anymore. They definitely were a great team that year, but how much of that was because of sign stealing is up for debate.

There are even Houston fans who are ashamed of the championship and don’t feel that the Astros deserve it. That should say something. The Astros have even been dubbed the “Houston Asterisks,” so MLB may as well make it official and put it in writing.

What I find interesting is how the players feel about the whole scandal and they’ve definitely made their opinions heard. Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron thought those on the Astros involved should be banned from baseball. Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger was, let’s just say, explicit.

He said in an interview that Houston “should be ashamed of themselves” and added “I don’t think any of those mother (blank)ers should be able to look us in the eye.”

Dodgers star Cody Bellinger said that Houston’s Jose Altuve stole the AL MVP award from the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, that Manfred’s punishment was “weak” and “everyone knows they stole the ring from us.” Teammate Justin Turner said the Astros “shouldn’t have rings” and Angels pitcher Andrew Heaney said he hoped Houston’s players “feel like s**t.”

Former Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger, who was designated for assignment after getting lit up in an outing against Houston, wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post stating that “The Astros had robbed me of the opportunity to determine my own future on the mound. If I failed at my craft because I wasn’t good enough, that would be on me. I could live with that. But thinking about the cheating and the toll it ultimately took on my family — that was something I couldn’t tolerate.” He’s suing Houston for personal damages and asks that the Astros donate their 2017 postseason bonuses to charity.

Perhaps the most telling quote came from Angels slugger Mike Trout. Considered by many to be MLB’s best all-around player, he typically doesn’t address controversial topics, but he was clear on how much the Astros scandal bothered him, saying “It’s sad for baseball. They cheated. I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing.”

He also said that he “lost respect for some of those guys.” Respect is a big thing in sports and if you lose the respect of your fellow athlete, you might never get it back.

And that’s the case for MLB as well. Its reputation is damaged heavily and no wacky postseason ideas are going to distract people from this scandal. The question now is what it’s going to do about it in the future. The Boston Red Sox are also under investigation for sign-stealing during their 2018 championship season. Will the league hammer them with harsher penalties simply because it whiffed in punishing the Astros? Or will Manfred wuss out again and create more anger among the league’s players and fans? That’s the big question.

Baseball is at a crossroads right now and it needs to pick the correct path going forward. Spring training should be something to get excited about, but with the Astros scandal clouding the sport, there’s nothing to cheer about right now.

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

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