Welcome James Christopher’s semi-regular blog about baseball. James is a lifelong baseball fan with a passion for the game, the teams and the fans.
APRIL 6, 2021
Welp, it’s happened. Five games into the season and I’m writing a piece on the Astros again. I really did promise not to do it, to let it go, move on. Sometimes, however, I feel the need to wade into admittedly stupid crusades to try to open eyes of folks who take a great deal of joy in seeing just what they want to see, to buy into a narrative that’s both convenient and fun for them.
To understand the Astros and the fall-out of the scandal, you have to explore two realities: the rules they broke and the effectiveness of the rule breaking. And yes, whether it was a scheme that worked or not does matter in parts of the discussion.
First, the Astros broke a rule and cheated using the video room and the trashcan to steal signs. Things that don’t matter in this part: that other teams did it / that there is rumor that the Yankees might have had an even more egregious scheme / that cheating has always been part of baseball. While maybe true, it doesn’t actually matter in the black and white discussion that is: did they cheat? The rule was clarified in September of 2017 and they continued to violate the mandate. For that, they received the maximum punishment allowed by the MLB. That’s key: the maximum allowable punishment.
Twitter account @basbllfan283747472342325 might have wanted the players thrown out of the game, marked with a Scarlet Letter and burned at the stake, but that’s not how it works. In all walks of American life, people are punished within the preexisting confines of agreed upon rules. We don’t get to change them just because it makes you feel better. That’s how a five year old thinks. Not an adult.
The players had immunity, which is why they spoke openly about the scheme, which is why we actually know HOW it worked. Anything else would have been circumstantial and then there really would have been no punishment. For a system to work, it has to be dispassionate and work as constructed. Emotion doesn’t factor in at all. Or at least it shouldn’t.
The other part of the discussion is the effectiveness of the scheme, and that does matter for two pretty important reason. Before diving in, the reality is, I’ve not a scene a single investigation into the scheme that says it was effective or resulted in anymore Thant 3-4 additional wins in the 17 regular season and was wholly ineffective and abandoned in the 17 playoffs. From sports psychologists to Baseball Prospectus to the LA Times, the same result was been concluded: the scheme might have actually hurt the Astros more than it helped, thus the improved numbers on the road despite playing in a hitter friendly ballpark.
This matters when we discuss whether the WS title is legit. There will be a shadow over it for other fans. Fans are fanatics. It’s understandable. But the reality is, no one, including Major League Baseball, has provided compelling proof that the Astros used ill-begotten means to beat the Red Sox/Yankees/Dodgers. (some would say the true crime was an upstart, losing franchise beating the MLB cash cows, but I digress).
The effectiveness of the scheme also matters when discussion players who were sent down after facing the Astros. Most of the players mentioned were in the AL Central and AL East: players who would only see the Astros 2-3 times a season. Most of these players had ERAs over 4 coming in and were often shelled. Baseball doesn’t make personnel decisions based on one or two outings. They track data, look for large sample sizes. Fact is, these guys were subpar major leagues before and after facing the Astros.
There is so much more to it all, I could obsesses over it:
- Why Altuve seems to be the face of it when all evidence says he didn’t use the scheme.
- How fanbases of team’s that were the largest steroid perpetrators or also punished/investigated feel comfortable being the most indignant.
- Will the Yankee letter get opened?
- If these guys really committed the greatest sin, why do the other players seem nonplussed?
- If the scheme is the only reason they won, why do the players from that team keep getting paid
The answer to some of this is rooted in the fact that MLB fan, like many other groups of people in this country don’t have the power and we’re easily distracted. Writers will write about the 81 boo covered gauntlet they’ll face all summer forgetting that some of their opponents have fanbases that 1) don’t care 2) are teams that will be out of by summer and won’t show up anyway. It’s all a game and we’re the pawns. Manfred, with the help of Jim Crane, created a villain. We can boo the Astros, we can throw things at them (hey, why shouldn’t we risk injury, they ChEaTeD) and while we’re doing that, we ignore the very fabric of the game that’s being changed irrevocably or being stolen altogether. Turning the MLB crowd into a WWE crowd might have been Manfred’s goal and he’s succeeded, but I don’t think its for the long time good of the game.