There are those who say cheating in sports is OK, all just part of the games. There are those who say if everyone else is doing it, then it’s fine. There are those who say if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. And then, there are those who say cheaters never win.
They’re all wrong.
Cheaters do win, if they conceal it sufficiently.
And if you don’t believe it, make this bet: a million dollars to me or you. I say chances are pretty good that if a major college program in basketball or football wins big, some rules are being broken. And those few of you out there who would take the other side of that wager, start scratching up the dough.
The problem with what the Houston Astros did, stealing signs with the help of electronics, a direct violation of Major League Baseball rules, it immediately gave Astros hitters a competitive advantage, knowing in advance what a pitcher was about to deal.
“It is a big advantage,” says Dale Murphy, the former two-time National League MVP, and a respected kind of conscience of the sport. “It doesn’t mean everything is gonna work out. But if a guy is throwing in the mid-90s and you know a breaking ball is coming, it will up your average.”
It upped the Astros’ average.
They used the technology in 2017 and 2018, two seasons when Houston first won the World Series and then finished with a mountain of wins. Stealing signs by way of the naked eye has been a time-honored practice in baseball, and is allowable, but doing so via a video feed from a center-field camera, even if the decoded signs were relayed to batters in a most primitive way — by banging on a trash can — is a significant violation.
“You can’t go outside the playing field by electronic means,” Murphy says. “It’s a big deal … you can’t do that.”
Let’s stop for a minute here. Think about cheating’s collision, in this case, of high-tech and Cro-Magnon man behavior. Banging on a garbage can to tip off hitters?
It’s laughable — lamentable, even — what some ’Stros players were claiming in the aftermath, that the sign stealing gave them no real edge, pointing at the fact that over that time period, Houston won more games on the road, where the electronics were not in place, than it did at home, where they were.
Two things about that claim: 1) If it gave the Astros no advantage, why then were they doing it? and 2) What a travesty it is that an outfit as talented as those teams were, teams that would have been excellent without the extra help, are now sullied by cheating’s stench.
After a long investigation, Houston was fined the maximum amount of $5 million by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, along with other penalties, such as a loss of draft picks. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended for a year, and subsequently fired by team owner Jim Crane.
The mastermind behind the sign-stealing endeavor was Alex Cora, Manfred said. Cora was a bench coach for the Astros in 2017, and he left Houston to become the Red Sox manager. He was fired by Boston on Tuesday. It’s notable that the Red Sox, who won the World Series in Cora’s first season as manager — 2018 — are currently under investigation for stealing signs.
Three questions arise out of these happenings.
The first is, will the penalties tamp down any inclination for other teams to cheat in like manner in the future?
Says Murph: “It will be a pretty strong deterrent.”
The second is, how did the Astros think, with player movement, they could devise this sort of system without it coming to light, sooner or later?
“When you leave a team, you tell everybody everything,” Murphy says. “That’s why i was shocked that the Astros thought they could get away with this, because guys get traded, they move on. When you leave, you tell your new team everything.”
The third question becomes what every caught cheater must ask himself: Was it worth it?
Some believe that Luhnow and Hinch will simply float on a raft somewhere off a beach in the Caribbean while their suspensions unfold, their World Series rings still in place, and return to baseball when the storm up north clears. Others think their reputations have been damaged enough to cause serious regret, even if they get second chances.
Who knows, really, other than them?
But you have to wonder about other cheaters, say, a rules-breaking college coach who wins a load of games, signs a huge contract or two, gains all kinds of acclaim, and later, after a whole lot of money is banked, gets nailed for his indiscretions.
Is that guy sorry? Sorry for anything more than the fact he got caught?
We’ll never know whether the Astros would have won that World Series without the cheating. Murphy says he hasn’t a clue on that one. Maybe that’s the biggest lesson here — that even the talented Astros don’t know. They cheated themselves out of knowing that.
What a shame.
What everyone does know is that they did cheat. And that their World Championship is now tarnished, won by the Houston Asterisks.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.