Let’s begin with America’s national pastime. As pitchers and catchers begin to report, Major League Baseball is undoubtedly eager to erase much of their off season publicity. A month after crowning last year’s champion, details of an intentional sign stealing scheme by the Houston Astros in 2017 began to emerge.
“Sign stealing is the act of decoding an opponents’ signs — either the catcher’s signaling which pitch to throw or the third-base coach’s signs to the batter,” writes ESPN Senior Writer David Schoenfield. While long part of baseball tradition, utilizing electronic devices for the purposes of sign stealing is against MLB rules.
What exactly did the Astros do?
According to CBS Sports, “The Astros used a camera positioned in center field to steal signs during games. Team personnel would watch the feed in a hallway between the clubhouse and dugout, and would relay what was coming to the hitter by hitting a garbage can…
MLB’s investigation revealed the Astros initially developed a system using illegal electronics to decode signs so a runner on second base could relay the sign to the hitter. Houston first tried whistling and clapping to relay signs from the dugout before settling on banging a garbage can. MLB’s report says the Astros stole signs throughout the 2017 regular season and postseason, and early in 2018 as well.”
The problem is that in 2017, the Houston Astros won the World Series.
So what should be the consequence for intentional cheating?
In January, after an investigation confirming the ongoing scheme, Houston was fined $5 million and lost first and second round draft picks in the next two years. The general manager and manager were each suspended for a year — that is, until the Astros responded in turn by firing them both.
There’s one minor hiccup.
They were allowed to keep their 2017 title.
Never mind the fact that the phrase “fair and square” does not apply. Never mind the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and LA Dodgers, each whose playoff run was ended by the Astros (with Boston earning an asterisk, subject to their own investigation). Never mind, too, that the Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to ask MLB to award the 2017 and 2018 titles to the Dodgers.
And most recently, never mind the career of professionals such as baseball journeyman, Mike Bolsinger. The pitcher gave up four earned runs to the Astros in one-third of an inning in 2017 (a very bad stat line for a pitcher). It was his last appearance in Major League Baseball, as both he and his coaches lost confidence in his ability to get opponents out. Hence, Bolsinger’s lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court this week labeled that his outing against the Astros was the “death knell” for his career.
As his attorney shared in an interview with The Houston Chronicle this week, “Mike’s damages tell you the human toll. It’s more than balls and strikes and home runs. This is someone’s life. It’s no different than someone who is my competitor in the legal industry coming into my office and stealing my file and is prepared for my arguments. It’s a violation of legal rules and the law. Because it takes place on the mound or in the dugout doesn’t cloak unlawful conduct. It’s a violation not only of trust but the law, and it has cost people their careers.”
Again, the Houston Astros have so far been allowed to keep their title.
Even though they cheated.
Even though they did so intentionally.
And even though others were harmed.
So again, we humbly but boldly ask, what should be the consequence for intentional cheating?
And as I remind myself that I was actually rooting for the Astros in ’17, I must also ask, in every arena — regardless of whether even an athletic event — do we maximize or minimize our desired consequence pending who the cheaters are?
Does our passion for punishment change with the person?
Just thinking out loud, friends… in all sorts of arenas…