MLB Cheating Scandal: Plenty of Blame to Go Around
As the weeks go by, more and more details are coming to light about the MLB cheating scandal. Commissioner Manfred has been under intense public scrutiny for his handling of the Houston Astros scandal and has taken as big a responsibility as anyone involved.
Finally, the commissioner has brought the MLBPA into this — and rightfully so. This investigation always had two sides, and it is about time both sides share the blame.
Law & Order
The MLB cheating scandal is playing out like a classic court case we see on TV shows such as Law & Order. The MLB is the prosecuting attorney who just needs to break the scandal from the top. Commissioner Manfred, who is an attorney with a Harvard degree, granted immunity to players he knows should be punished. As in real life, guilty parties exchange full cooperation for little to no punishments quite often. The MLBPA represents the defendants. Their sole purpose is to make sure their clients receive as little a penalty as possible. As usual, the MLBPA seems to have won this court case.
But did they?
Commissioner Manfred stated that he went to the MLBPA asking for help with this investigation. Manfred said that multiple teams were accused of cheating, and not one player outside of Mike Fiers offered any details. The commissioner could not prove any of these allegations and went to the MLBPA. Manfred has stated that he would not be able to talk to the players without granting them immunity.
We all know what happened after that. Not one player was penalized. The Astros organization got penalized as harshly as MLB allows a team to get penalized. Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one year. The Astros then fired both Hinch and Luhnow. The amount of backlash from the fans and players has been incredible.
Commissioner Manfred has made some mistakes in the handling of this scandal. The failure to not release all facts and details of the investigation in his initial report was the biggest one of all. The Commissioner has opened himself up to public ridicule every time he talks and releases new info. Additionally, he also underestimated the amount of backlash this scandal would create. The presence of social media has clearly kept this topic as hot as it has been. Back when PED use first came about, fans and players were having the same feelings as today. However, in 2020 the fans have a platform to share their feelings and pretty much say whatever they want.
Commissioner Manfred also called the World Series trophy a piece of metal. This is a comment that may have gone unnoticed if stated at a different time, but with this scandal dominating the news, it was yet another mistake made by the commissioner.
The release of the ridiculous potential new playoff format will not be taken seriously. It was quite obvious this was released in an attempt to talk about something other than the cheating scandal.
What Manfred Got Right
What is not a mistake for Manfred is the decision to not strip the Astros of their 2017 World Championship. Firstly it is already forever tainted in the minds of everyone outside of the Astros organization. Secondly, MLB would then have to strip every championship where a team had a player who cheated. All records from the steroid era would also need to be stripped.
The Cincinnati Reds in 1919 will never get the credit a world championship team normally gets because of the Black Sox Scandal. Chicago White Sox players admittedly threw games but the Reds players insisted they were the better team even if the public thinks that World Series was tainted.
The MLBPA has finally stepped up to the plate. Commissioner Manfred’s latest comments made sure there would be at long last a response from the MLBPA. Why have they been silent so long? Their members admitted to cheating. MLBPA President Tony Clark has finally issued a statement. Clark stated that at no time did the MLBPA not cooperate with the MLB in this investigation. He also stated that the MLBPA acted to protect the rights of our members, as is our obligation under the law.
In regards to player discipline, Clark also stated that the MLB said from the outset that It was not its intention to discipline the players. This seems to contradict what the Commissioner has stated. Clark also said the rules of the CBA does not allow for discipline in regards to this issue. So exactly what choice did Commissioner Manfred have? Tony Clark has talked out of both sides of his mouth. On one side, he said MLB never discussed penalties to the players. But on the other side, he said they couldn’t penalize the players anyway. Isn’t that what Commissioner Manfred stated? If Tony Clark is right in the union’s stance, then why hasn’t he told his other members to not talk publicly about this?
Tony Clark has just started his annual spring training tour of visiting each MLB team. There are two questions that need to be asked by the players.
- How could you sit there and let these players cheat and not backup your other members who want them punished?
- Do you even care that the Astros cheated?
Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark today issued the following statement: pic.twitter.com/KmvWN7WgIy
— MLBPA Communications (@MLBPA_News) February 19, 2020
Policing the Game
We have been hearing for a couple of weeks now that players from other teams will police the Astros as is traditional in Major League Baseball. The only problem is — unlike other cases — the when, where, and how were never discussed. Many pitchers have said publicly they would throw at Astros hitters if they have the chance.
What if said pitcher actually faces Jose Altuve or another Astros player and hits him in the head with a 95+ mph fastball? What if the result of the HBP causes Altuve to get seriously injured and forces him to retire? That would be the easiest lawsuit for Altuve’s lawyer to win. The pitcher would be arrested because he publicly declared what he was going to do. Altuve’s lawyer would sue that pitcher, the team that employs him, MLB, MLBPA, and the umpires and would successfully collect damages.
Additionally, the MLBPA has stated they will protect all of their members. MLB and the MLBPA are already discussing this situation and how to keep the peace during the games. This will mean heavy fines and suspensions for pitchers who throw at Astro hitters. Does policing the Astros mean more than getting fined and suspended and costing your own team wins?
MLB recently sent memo to teams laying out new steps to curb intentional hit-by-pitches. Umps will now confer to determine if they deem intent. Managers will be held more accountable for these incidents, too. Rule unrelated to Astros new concern, but they should welcome change.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 19, 2020
Las Vegas has posted odds on the number of Astros players who will get hit by a pitch this season. While the fans are anticipating a huge number of HBPs this season, a look into the numbers shows an interesting fact.
In 2019 the New York Mets were hit a major league-leading 95 times. Additionally, about a quarter of the teams in the league were hit more than 80 times. In the last decade, the major league-leading team has topped the 80.5 total number of HBPs in a season every year that Vegas is proposing for the Astros this season.
They're now taking bets in Vegas on how often the #Astros are hit by pitches this year, per @betonline_ag:
_Times players are HBP:
_Times players charge the mound:
_Who will most be hit by pitch:
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) February 18, 2020
The players who cheated the game ultimately deserve the biggest blame. Cheating is bad enough but hiding under the robe of the MLBPA is even worse. They did not seem to care when they were doing the deed and ignoring the direction of MLB and possibly the MLBPA. After all, it wasn’t spelled out in the rules. So was the MLBPA fine with the players cheating? Did they discuss sign-stealing with their members and tell them not to do it, and the players just did not listen? But now, the players are clearly listening to both the MLB and MLBPA when issuing their statements about the scandal.
Players will always look for advantages to win games. That has been happening since the beginning of this sport. Any form of stealing signs is not illegal, just like using PEDs was not illegal until it was put into the CBA. In this investigation, Commissioner Manfred was going to punish the teams and not the players. This is because he knew that, until it was officially put into the CBA, he would not have been able to punish the players.
Even though there are penalties in the CBA for players using PEDs, that does not stop some players from using them. However, an organization does not get penalized when a player gets caught using PEDs. Once the CBA is changed, the players will be penalized along with the organizations they play for when they are caught stealing signs electronically.
Tex Said What?
Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote an article about the 2016 New York Yankees and what they were doing in regards to stealing signs. Former Yankee Mark Teixeria said there would be someone watching the game from the clubhouse. That person would try to decode the signs and relay that to the players in the dugout.
Teixeria insists that if it was used, it was used only when a Yankee baserunner reached second base. The baserunner would try to figure out if the signs were still the same. He also said that he didn’t think it worked very well. Teixeria stated “I don’t believe any of my Yankee teammates ever broke the rules by passing along signs to hitters in real-time. We would have seen it.”
Clearly, the Astros took this to a higher level. But if the intent was to not really use it, then why do it at all? Why would any fan believe anything any of these players say? As the commissioner stated, this was a problem with more than one team. The theory that the Yankees didn’t cheat because they were figuratively driving 70 mph in a 60 mph zone while the Astros were driving 100 makes no sense. Both are breaking the law.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 22, 2020
The two major players at the forefront of this are Mike Fiers and Carlos Beltran. Beltran is the direct link to the 2017 Astros, the 2016 Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox — the other team currently under investigation by MLB. Beltran was the alleged ring leader in Houston and was a player on the Yankees from 2014-2016.
His close friendship with Alex Cora, who was also a coach on the 2017 Astros and was recently fired as manager of the Red Sox, ties Beltran to all three teams. Beltran needs to sit down and confess to everything. It could mean the end of his career in MLB, but the truth needs to come out.
As for Mike Fiers, he is getting standing ovations for revealing the scandal. But did he break the players code? Former Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz thinks he has broken the code. Fiers told The Athletic, “I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing.”
While this is a noble act by Fiers, there are still questions that he has not answered. Did he try to stop his teammates in 2017 as he was part of a team that cheated and won a World Series? Did he care about playing the game on an even level during the 2017 season?
Fiers did admit he was a little bitter about not getting re-signed by the Astros after the 2017 season. Fiers spoke about how unfair the electronic sign-stealing was to the young pitchers in 2018 as a member of the Detroit Tigers but does not mention the young pitchers across MLB who faced the Astros in 2017.
This is yet another black eye for the sport. Major League Baseball is still getting over the use of steroids, and it has this cheating scandal. We have only scratched the surface of this scandal because multiple teams were accused of cheating in some form.
The players, MLBPA, and MLB all need to tell the tales. Several cats are out of the bag now. It’s time for everything to be revealed and let the healing process start.