When looking at what to write about this week, I wanted to write something about baseball. As I was pondering what topic to discuss, the MLB Commissioner’s office dropped the hammer on the Houston Astros, which provides the perfect topic for this week’s Hurley Happenings.
Before I get into the history of how this cheating scandal happened, let’s outline the punishments the Houston Astros received Monday afternoon.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow received 1 year suspension(fired by Astros)
Manager AJ Hinch received 1 year suspension(fired by Astros)
2020 and 2021 first and second round picks stripped
$5 million fine for the Astros, the most that can be fined under the MLB constitution.
So what in the world did the Astros do to deserve this amount of punishments? Since at least 2017, the Astros have been using technology in Minute Maid Park to steal the signs of the opposing pitchers. The team used a camera in centerfield to send video to a monitor in the hallway between the dugout and the clubhouse. Then, a “low-level staffer” would bang on a trash can loud enough for the hitter at the plate to hear, which signaled that an off-speed pitch was coming.
The question remains, what does all of this mean? Teams regularly do their best to try and steal signs, which is often why a pitcher will step off the mound and meet with the catcher to ensure their signs are safe. Teams accept this as a cat and mouse between pitchers, catchers, and batter and baserunners, but the situation with the Astros is different. Using technology, that the visiting team does not have access to, is an entirely different ballgame.(Pun intended)
Baseball is a game of tradition and a game of honor and a “code” that guys learn from a young age. Kids learn to protect their team, and most importantly to protect the integrity of the game. Those who jeopardize this integrity and honor, don’t often last long in the game. The Astros arguably cheated their way into two World Series appearances, and their former bench Coach Alex Cora seems to have cheated the Boston Red Sox to a 2018 World Series championship as well. This scandal has rocked the baseball world and its followers to their core.
With all of this context in mind, do the punishments match the crime? I don’t exactly think so. In their memo regarding the punishments, the MLB stated that the scandal was primarily “player driven” in its nature. Yet, the only people punished were the Astros GM and their manager. Not a single player was punished, even though Jose Altuve won his only MVP in 2017, and in order for the scandal to have actually occurred was for AT LEAST all the position players to know the system while they are up to bat. But the MLB did not punish any players, including now NY Mets manager Carlos Beltran who was on the team at the time.
I absolutely understand the difficulty of the situation. With over 25 position players alone who played for the Astros the whole year, it is hard to determine who to punish and to what degree. Absolutely. But for the MLB, it seems the Astros have won. The owner Jim Crane only loses $5 million, which to a team that is valued at $1.8 billion, is loose change. They lost their manager and GM, but with that roster, they shouldn’t have a hard time finding someone effective to take their places. They keep their World Series title, they keep their team, and they keep their roster fully intact. I have no outside arbitrary decision on what the punishments should have been, but if you are a fan of baseball the punishments should be a little disappointing.
No matter your opinion on the subject, one thing is clear. The Astros cheated, and the league needs to be on the lookout for similar procedures across the league. As technology evolves, so will the way teams cheat, or try to gain a “competitive advantage.” And as these things evolve, the way Major League Baseball regulates and reduces cheating must also change. What happens with the Red Sox and what happens with sign stealing in the future? That remains to be seen.
MJ Hurley is an all-sports writer for the Philadelphia Chronicle.
Follow MJ on Twitter and Instagram at @mjhurley47.