PHOENIX: The Great American Pastime (Major League Baseball: MLB) was invented by a merging of two older British sports: 1) Cricket, and 2) Rounders. Since its inception, baseball has gained more participants and fans. And scandals. Such as the 2017 Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.
Over the years, the game has undergone several rule changes and guiding principles. Good-natured sportsmanship has been encouraged, but the competitive rivalry has nurtured a “win at all cost” mentality. Fans in various parts of the country have commonly bantered rival fans with good-natured ribbing and jeering. However, in some instances, hardcore fans have intentionally ostracized others from their social circles and/or business dealings. In extreme instances, family members have been shunned and even excluded from a succession of property and goods in a last will and testament.
The passion of the fans and players has been well recognized.
In fact, MLB has officially recognized that teams will go to extra lengths to gain a competitive edge. Widespread tactics of stealing signs were not only known by the MLB hierarchy, but it even published guidance for clubs to follow if/when they decided to steal signs from other clubs. This “wink and a nod” by MLB have unwittingly developed a culture where clubs could get as close to the line as possible… WITHOUT crossing the line. Here is an excerpt from the book: \“The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls” (Jason Turbow, with Michael Duca)
“Stealing signs is not necessarily a violation of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) rulebook; it depends how the signs are stolen At the December 1961 Winter Meetings, the National League banned the use of a “mechanical device” to steal signs. The use of electronic equipment is not specifically forbidden by MLB rules, but in 2001, Sandy Alderson, while serving as executive vice president for baseball operations of MLB, issued a memorandum stating that teams cannot use electronic equipment to communicate with each other during games, especially for the purpose of stealing signs. Before the 2019 season, Rob Manfred, the commissioner of baseball, instituted specific prohibitions on where teams could position cameras and how instant replay officials can communicate with managers in an effort to reduce illicit sign stealing.” (Courtesy of Wikipedia.org)
Prior to the exposure of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal of 2017, the MLB network occasionally produced segments on sign stealing that explained “how to do it right.” Here is one example:
The Houston Astros approached the line and CROSSED IT. No one with a normal cognitive function can excuse their actions. The manager, A. J. Hinch even acknowledged that he was aware that players in the dugout were conveying signals to batters by using video surveillance (cameras) to steal signs. Hinch said that he tried to discourage such actions, but also said that he wasn’t forceful enough to bring it to an end, and took full responsibility for his inaction.
Following an extensive investigation, MLB levied a huge and unprecedented penalty on the Astros: The Astros were fined $5 million, the maximum allowed by the MLB constitution, and forced to forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Although Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended by MLB for the entire 2020 season (including playoffs), they were subsequently fired by owner Jim Crane.
So, now what? Should the Astros relinquish their 2017 MLB pennant for winning the World Series?
The 2017 Houston Astros battled a number of challenges, and overcame them:
- Hurricane Harvey devastated the greater Houston area. The team and community pulled together amidst extremely challenging circumstances.
- The team had the MLB best record on the road. The Astros also put together a 13-game win streak on the road.
- The Astros became the first team in MLB history to win a division title in three (3) different divisions: a) NL West, b) NL Central, and c) AL West.
The team’s success in 2017 was not, repeat, not a fluke or a surprise. In fact, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter, in 2014, predicted that the Astros (because of success in the draft and player development in their farm system) would win the World Series:
The Astros franchise had three (3) consecutive 100+ loss seasons (2011 – 2013 seasons). Noteworthy is the fact that three of their stars: Dallas Keuchel, Marwin Gonzalez and Jose Altuve were with the team during those dark years. Yet, they endured and became catalysts for positive change. The culture of encouraging and effectively developing their players was marvelously illustrated with their star third baseman Alex Bregman. Bregman was a top draft pick, and a star of the College World Series champion Tigers. After being drafted by the Astros, Bregman was eventually called up to the Majors. However, his initial stint had him go 0 for 17 in at bats, and then 1 for 32 (.031 batting average). Yikes! There were calls for Bregman’s head, and many were calling him a “bust.” But the culture of the team was stronger than the jeers of the mob. Their patience paid off, and Alex Bregman is recognized as a top star both in his hitting and fielding. There are other success stories in the Astros franchise.
In the 2017 World Series, the team was down by one game to the Dodgers (on the road) and down to their last batter with 2 out. On the mound for the Dodgers was their relief ace: Kenley Jansen, who had never blown a save in 12 prior appearances. The batter, Marwin Gonzalez, had not had a home run in the entire postseason (vs. the Red Sox, nor vs. the Yankees). Gonzalez came through in the clutch and tied the game 3-3, and the Astros went on to win the game in the 11th inning.
Fast forward to Game 7, and the Astros, again on the road, bested the Dodgers 5-1 to clinch their first World Series title in their 56-year history.
We can cite actions of wrongdoing by others and use that as justification for discrediting their many accomplishments. No need to digress by speaking of football Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor smoking crack cocaine; that’s irrelevant. Yes, the Astros were guilty as charged. They paid a heavy penalty, and their championship has been tarnished. But despite their indiscretion, the Houston Astros earned the MLB pennant that year, and all who were a part of that memorable season should be proud of what they accomplished.
Bill Randall is a contributing writer for COMMDIGINEWS (CDN), a retired Navy Master Chief, and resides in Phoenix, AZ.