Some Thoughts On The Astros’ Cheating Scandal

Originally Published: January 25, 2020

I’d like to point out, for starters, that I hated the Astros before it was cool to hate the Astros. So, I feel like I’m a LITTLE bit more with it than the rest of the Johnny Come Lately’s. I’ve been on record for years now saying that – while MLB was probably correct to re-align the leagues to 15 teams apiece – they never should’ve moved Houston when there were less-established teams (Colorado and Arizona, for instance) who would’ve been a MUCH better fit in the A.L. West.

I’m happy to be blunt about my next point: the Astros are fucking cheaters, and deserve a punishment even more drastic than what they’ve received. That having been said, count me in the camp that firmly believes they weren’t the only ones cheating in this manner. Of course, Major League Baseball has been overwhelmed with cheating since the dawn of the game itself, from the Black Sox to doctoring baseballs to rampant use of illicit pharmaceutical substances to bat corking to run-of-the-mill sign-stealing to this electronic nonsense to whatever else has been going on that we don’t even know about. If it’s not one thing, it’s a million others, and nothing would surprise me at this point.

It’s the culture of baseball itself that should be on trial here, from the bogus “unwritten rules” to the overwhelming practice of players internally protecting the widespread act of cheating; whereas the NFL has always been about protecting the shield at all costs, baseball players prefer instead to wallow in corruption. The NFL, of course, has problems of its own that it should reflect upon; I don’t know what’s more destructive in the long run. All I know is that the game of baseball is a fucking joke, and it’s impossible to take any of it seriously when “credibility” has never been its pursuit.

You don’t reach the heights of major professional sports without a fierce dedication to a competitive spirit, and as such the people involved will always look for a hidden edge to defeat their opponents; that’s just to be expected. But, the enthusiasm to go outside the lines of fairness and legality has always set the game apart. Any professional athlete, coach, manager, and owner in any sport would be more than willing to cheat in the name of winning (see: the New England Patriots, for instance); what sets baseball apart from the other sports is its upper management’s – from the commissioner on down – willingness and desire to continually look the other way when they know its teams and players are cheating, only taking punitive action after everyone has accepted whatever hot-button form of cheating has been accepted as commonplace and The New Norm. When the Patriots get caught breaking the rules, they get punished; the NFL doesn’t wait around for 9 or 10 teams to follow suit, only to THEN act accordingly when the public finds out about it.

I wanted to compare baseball to the WWE, but the difference there is that wrestling is scripted and – more importantly – entertaining. Baseball is just crooked, masquerading as credible, so I don’t see how anyone can have faith in its legitimacy.

Lots of people want to compare these sign-stealing shenanigans to the Steroids Epidemic of the 1990’s. I think this is far worse. I would MUCH rather face someone on the juice than someone who literally knows what pitch I’m about to throw. I would argue steroids are a necessary evil based on the antiquated format of the game itself. 162 games a year, plus Spring Training, plus the post-season, is just too many fucking games. How can you possibly expect these people to survive an entire season of this kind of daily grind without getting injured? Besides that, there just isn’t enough of an offseason for most of these guys to recuperate! Even if you do make it through an entire season, you’re most likely dealing with some sort of injury that will require a significant chunk of your offseason to recover from; how are you then supposed to build up your body following that rehab period in time for the next year?

People who tried to defend the Astros for living in the 21st century, and taking advantage of the technology available to us, are missing the point. They also have the technology to bug an opposing play-caller’s microphone in the NFL; would you celebrate a football team for knowing its opponent’s play call before every snap? Or, would you think that’s a shitty thing to do, and against the spirit of the game?

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe it’s foolish of me to expect a fair game. But, if you don’t level the playing field and rid the game of this crap, where does it end?

Compared to the other sports, I’ve never been the biggest baseball fan in the world, and I attribute that 100% to the Mariners being the worst-run organization in all of professional athletics. If the shoe was on the other foot, and it was the Mariners destroying everyone and cheating to do it, I’m sure I’d have many different feelings. But, if my team is too inept to put a winning product on the field, it’s SURELY not smart enough to find a way to cheat to get an edge. Nevertheless, I’ve never felt it easier to give up on the game of baseball completely. As I mentioned above, these people will just find a brand new way to flout the rules until there’s another massive scandal that rocks the game to its foundations. So, why should I care? Why should I watch the games on television? Why should I follow the day-to-day minutiae? Even if I had any faith whatsoever in this current Mariners rebuild, why should I bother putting in the effort when I can ignore Major League Baseball completely, other than the small handful of games I attend in any given season? I usually just go to games with friends anyway, so it’s more of a reason to get together and hang out than it is to appreciate the game itself.

Maybe if they got their shit together and instituted real change, but again I ask: why should I trust anything that Major League Baseball does to try to make the game more honest? They’ve lied and cheated for well over a century now, the culture of the game is utterly bankrupt. This is the real shame of it all. When people talk about “what’s wrong with baseball” they focus on the pace and length of the individual games, when they should really be focusing on the character of the sport.

In the short term, all this talk of buzzers and 21st century technology has me thinking (for what it’s worth, I understand no one has actually copped to using buzzers, and hiding a conspiracy that vast would be nearly impossible on this scale – then again, never underestimate the sport’s eagerness to protect its most vile individuals – but I’ll choose to continue to believe the Astros, and probably others, were buzzing one another the upcoming pitches until the day I die): why do we still have hand signals in baseball at all? We have smart watches now, for Christ’s sake! Have the catcher push a button from a device he can store in his pocket that relays to the pitcher what pitch they want thrown; that way the runner standing on second base can focus on, you know, playing the game, as opposed to whatever combination of fingers are being flashed between the catcher’s legs.

In the big picture, though, this is a difficult scandal for me to reconcile. For the longest time, I used to say, “I’m not a baseball fan, I’m a Mariners fan.” Then, during the darkness of the last decade, I adjusted that sentiment to, “I’m not a Mariners fan, I’m a King Felix fan.” And now I have to wonder, was his career in Seattle cut short – and rendered completely asunder – because teams (plural) like the Astros knew what he was throwing? It’s hard not to notice that the effectiveness of his devastating change up lost a lot of its luster right around the time period when this scandal was in its infancy. How did the majority of Major League hitters go from helplessly whiffing at his change ups in the dirt, to all of a sudden laying off of them completely, even though they arrived at nearly the same speed as his fastball, looking nearly identical until they fell off the map? Just a coincidence, or were the Astros and their deciples not the only ones taking part in all of this sign-stealing horseshit?

I think this was a league-wide scourge, and everyone chose to just look the other way. The logic at that point is, “Since everyone is doing it, is it really cheating?” I’ll answer that for you: yes. Yes, it is cheating, and the people who SHOULD give a damn about that clearly do not.

There’s the old cliche about such-and-such being “as American as baseball and apple pie”, but that’s a phrase that needs to be put to bed forever. You know what’s inherently American? Graft, corruption, and a total lacking of scruples. Such is baseball.

If I were running the marketing campaign for Apple Pie, I’d want to distance myself from those other two entities as quickly as humanly possible!