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Astros Up to the Elbow in the Cookie Jar

January 18, 2020

Hugh Atkins

The Houston Astros got caught cheating, and Major League Baseball handed down some penalties. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers opened Pandora’s box back in November when he confirmed that Houston was using electronic technology to steal signs and pass the information to their batters when he was with the team in 2017, the year they won the World Series. But if Commissioner Rob Manfred thought the investigation and resulting suspensions would be the beginning of the end of this scandal, he was sadly mistaken.

The statement from Manfred detailing the investigation into Fiers’ allegations specifically named former Houston coach Alex Cora and former player Carlos Beltran as the masterminds of the scheme. Manfred chastised manager A.J. Hinch for knowing about the cheating and not taking any action to stop it. Manfred took Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow to task, saying that he did not pass along a directive from MLB stating that using electronic technology to steal signs would result in severe penalties.

2017 Topps Heritage Mike Fiers

© T.C.G.

The fallout from the investigation was immediate. After Manfred suspended both Luhnow and Hinch for the 2020 season, the Astros fired them both. The Boston Red Sox fired Cora, who served as their manager the past two seasons, winning the World Series in 2018. The New York Mets parted ways with manager Carlos Beltran before he ever made it to Spring Training as a major league skipper.

Manfred’s apparent naiveté is evident in the statement he released when announcing the suspensions. Manfred applauds the Astros for completely cooperating with the investigation, but, like Bud Selig when it came to performance-enhancing drugs, he has his head in the sand if he really believes that Luhnow did not know his team was cheating or that Hinch did not approve of it. Manfred takes at face value the Astros’ contention that the cheating ended after the 2017 postseason.

Even though Manfred suspended Luhnow and Hinch for an entire season, the punishment does not match the crime; baseball has banned players, managers, and executives for life for lesser offenses. (Let me be clear, however; weighing Houston’s punishment against that of Pete Rose or the eight players involved in the 1919 Black Sox scandal is comparing apples to oranges.)

MLB also took four draft picks from the Astros and fined them $5 million. While that is a lot of money to someone like me, it is $800K less than the Astros paid reliever Collin McHugh to go 4-5 with a 4.70 earned run average this past season.

Further allegations regarding the Astros’ clandestine activities continue to seep out. The Los Angeles Times and other outlets reported rumors that Houston players wore buzzers under their jerseys. Of course, the Astros deny these latest charges, but they also denied all allegations of cheating until after Fiers let the cat out of the bag.

Another sad element in this whole sorry affair is that the players who participated in and benefited from the cheating got away scot free. While Manfred may be correct in his statement that “assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical,” it is not impossible. Even if there were players who did not participate in the scheme, it is inconceivable that any one of them didn’t know it was happening. Manfred at least could have tried to make the players return their 2017 postseason pay.

In the end, I will say this for Rob Manfred; he at least is trying to do something about the cheating. While I don’t believe his punishment went far enough, compared to Bud Selig, Manfred is Judge Roy Bean.

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