Two days. It’s been two days since Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred issued his report finding my Houston Astros guilty of cheating in 2017 and 2018 for using technology to steal signs from their opponents. Guilty of violating an official, written rule that applies to all teams, and having continued to do so after all the teams had been directly warned not to do this very thing. Guilty of action that potentially effected the outcome of games, a threat to the integrity of the sport not so far removed from the one posed by players gambling on baseball, the thing that led to the Black Sox Scandal and the creation of the office of the commissioner and any number of suspensions and “banned for life”s of players and managers and coaches over the years.
The team will pay a very large fine, lose its top two draft choices this year and next year, and proceed without the general manager and field manager who are credited with turning the worst team in baseball into the 2017 World Series Champions. That’s a pretty stiff penalty. The manager admits knowing what was going on and regrets not doing enough anything to stop it; the general manager claims not to have known what was going on, but the report’s conclusions indicate he did, at least to some extent. They were both suspended by the league, and then fired by the team’s owner, because leaders are responsible for the actions of those they lead, and this time the leaders are taking the fall.
For the Houston Astros players. Who, as best as I can tell, have so far said absolutely nothing about the report that labels some of them cheaters.
The report finds
The Astros’ methods in 2017 and 2018 to decode and communicate to the batter an opposing Club’s signs were not an initiative that was planned or directed by the Club’s top baseball operations officials. Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of [then bench coach Alex] Cora, player-driven and player-executed. (Emphasis added.)
Most of the position players on the 2017 team either received sign information from the banging scheme or participated in the scheme by helping to decode signs or bang on the trash can. Many of the players who were interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line from what the player believed was fair competition and/or violated MLB rules. (Emphases added again, with regret.)
Then why didn’t baseball punish the players? This is Manfred’s answer:
I will not assess discipline against individual Astros players. I made the decision in September 2017 that I would hold a Club’s General Manager and Field Manager accountable for misconduct of this kind, and I will not depart from that decision. Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical. It is difficult because virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable, or their relative degree of culpability. It is impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other Clubs.
We, each of us, may choose to argue the commissioner’s rationale (or perhaps, rationalization), but there it is. Players will not be assessed fines or suspensions or the like. But they will suffer, justifiably, in the court of public opinion.
Grown men, some very young and some a bit older, but all adults who should have known better; men who told the investigators they would have stopped cheating if only their manager had told them to stop. He didn’t, and I still don’t understand why he didn’t, but the players who for years had nothing bad to say about their skipper (at least not in public) have cost him his job and maybe his career. And not one of them has had anything to say.
No one has denied that they cheated. No one has claimed they exercised bad judgment, or felt peer pressure to break the rules, or tried to explain that they didn’t think that what they did was really so bad after all. Not a single one of them has said “I’m sorry,” at least not that I’ve been able to find.
Today’s professional athlete has plenty of ways to communicate with the fans, even in the off-season, and they don’t have to wait until a reporter from a local outlet runs them down to get a comment. I checked around to see if any of the the big names of the 2017 Astros have “reached out,” as they like to say. Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Springer, Gurriel, and Reddick; Verlander and Keuchel and McCullers and McHugh; Marisnick and Beltran and Marwin and Evan Gattis; even Max Stassi! Not a one of them has peeped since Manfred lowered the boom Monday morning or since owner Jim Crane fired GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch Monday afternoon. Crane has had his say; Luhnow and Hinch have released statements; but from the players, nothing.
Surely none of them thinks he is going to be able to dodge this forever, or even for long. There will be no getting away with sitting on the dais at “the facility” and proclaiming “I’m not here to talk about that today, I’m here to talk about the new season.” And if I get even a whiff of “the team did not make the players available for comment,” I will surely open a vein, or send a sternly-worded letter…somewhere. Jeez.
Fellas, you owe it to the fans. We may not forgive you and get over it right away even if you mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa all over the place, but I can promise you that a hell of a lot of us will never get over it if you don’t even try.