Special Briefing: Will Players Strike Out in Baseball’s Latest Scandal? - OZY | A Modern Media Company
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 13: Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros looks on prior to a team workout at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 13, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

The fallout from the Houston Astros' sign-stealing is spreading.

By Dan Peleschuk

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What’s happening? As spring training gets underway for a new baseball season, the sport is consumed by a still-unfolding scandal. Four months after a former player disclosed the Houston Astros’ elaborate sign-stealing system — in which they illegally deciphered the opposing team’s pitching signals using cameras, allowing the batter to know what’s coming — the outrage is only growing. Critics are calling for the 2017 World Series champs to be stripped of their title, while MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has become ensnared for going easy on the Astros.

Cactus League Media Availability

GLENDALE, AZ – FEBRUARY 19: Commissioner of Baseball Robert D. Manfred Jr. speaks to the media during Cactus League Media Availability on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at the Glendale Civic Center in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB via Getty Images)

Why does it matter? Following the steroid crisis of the 2000s, the league leveled all sorts of bans against the offending players, albeit selectively. But in the sign-stealing scandal, the only casualties so far have been Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch (though the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox have also fired their Astros-linked managers). The club has been docked $5 million and lost their next two first- and second-round draft picks. The problem: Fans and players are angrier than ever, raising an important question on which the future of pro baseball may well depend: Will the players themselves be punished?

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Sorry, not sorry. “I don’t think I should be held accountable.” That’s what Astros owner Jim Crane said in a brief spring-training press conference — during which, for good measure, he also said the cheating “didn’t impact the game.” Star Houston players echoed his sentiments. Baloney, say the Astros’ foes. “I think it was the extra edge that allowed them to move on” in 2017, said New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, whose team lost to the Astros in the 2017 and 2019 playoffs. (Chapman is part of this scandal’s Zapruder film: When Astros second baseman Jose Altuve hit an ALCS-clinching homer off of Chapman, then demanded his teammates not rip his jersey off, it sparked speculation he was wearing a buzzer to tell him what pitches were coming.) The organization had already been in the crosshairs last season for signing reliever Roberto Osuna after he was accused of domestic violence. Now Houston is unquestionably the sport’s premier villain.

Peer-to-peer. And that’s not just among fans: One by one, fellow players are bashing their on-field colleagues — and it ain’t pretty. Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis suggested the guilty players need “a beating” for “messing with people’s careers,” while three-time MVP Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels also slammed the lack of punishment. Former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger is even doing something about it, having sued the Astros for allegedly robbing him of future potential: He was bumped down to the minors and never played pro again after a humiliating August 2017 loss to the Astros. Nor has the criticism been confined to baseball: Yesterday, NBA icon LeBron James took to Twitter to urge Manfred to “fix this for the sake of Sports!”

World Series - Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Two

LOS ANGELES, CA – OCTOBER 25: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros reacts after hitting a solo home run during the tenth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the 2017 World Series at Dodger Stadium on October 25, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

What now? It remains unclear whether anyone else will be punished in what the MLB itself calls “player-driven” cheating. That’s because Manfred granted immunity to anyone willing to speak with league investigators. So will further justice only come in the form of beanballs aimed at batters’ heads and runners sliding cleats-up into second base? Not necessarily. Analysts have suggested a variety of punishments, including no home playoff games for the next three seasons or even withholding postseason bonuses to all members of the 2017 squad. Sure, the players’ union might raise a stink, but a critical mass of anger might leave the league with few other options.

WHAT TO READ

MLB Commissioner Knows Astros Cheating Scandal Has Destroyed Baseball’s Credibility, by Dylan Hernández in the Los Angeles Times

“If the story of the day isn’t about a previously unreported element of how the Astros perpetuated their fraud, it’s about what a prominent player had to say about baseball’s version of the New England Patriots.”

As LeBron James Rips MLB, It’s Clear Astros Scandal Isn’t All Bad Publicity, by Gabe Lacques in USA Today

“These were not criminal acts, but absurd means of cheating a game that practically claims that act as a birthright. Though many of us are loathe to admit it, there is a relatability to this scandal that resonates.”

WHAT TO WATCH

The Astros Are Pretending They Didn’t Cheat and Should Be Embarrassed

“This team does not care what you think.”

Watch on ESPN on YouTube:

The Astros Sign-Stealing Is the Latest Scandal in Baseball. It’s Far From the First.

“It melds both high technology … and really crude technology.”

Watch on the Washington Post on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

A world of cheaters. Technology isn’t just being used to get ahead; it’s also become a weapon against cheating in various sports. In international cricket, for instance, the Decision Review System (DRS) is relied upon to minimize the chances of a batsman fooling the umpire when he’s actually out. Meanwhile, soccer recently saw the introduction of “limb-tracking” technology to make sure players aren’t offsides and video reviews to catch red-card-worthy violence that slips past the refs’ naked eyes.

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