Baseball is facing its biggest scandal since the 1919 World Series

Surely you remember what happened 100 years ago. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox were charged with “throwing” the World Series in what has been named the Black Sox Scandal.

The reasons for their actions are still debated, but the end result was that they intentionally tried to lose the Series. People were shocked, but baseball recovered. Now the sport is in the midst of a cheating scandal that will shake the game to its foundation.

As baseball fans, we all expect the game to be on the up and up. We spend hours following our favorite teams and players. We watch the games hoping that “our” team will win. More importantly, we want our team to win fair and square.

What happened in 2017 and likely again in 2018 makes us wonder if this is the sport we want to devote so much time to. The Houston Astros won the 2017 World Series, but rumors surfaced that the Astros were guilty of sign stealing. We are not talking about trying to catch a pitcher tipping off his pitches. No, it was much more sophisticated than that — well, to a point.

Here’s the scoop. The Astros supposedly installed a high-tech camera in their centerfield scoreboard, where it could read the catcher’s signals. The info was transmitted to the video room where the type of pitch could be determined. That information was relayed to a person who used a baseball bat to bang a trash can in the tunnel next to the dugout. The batter then had an advantage as the pitch was made.

Yes, I did say a bat was used to bang a trash can. So much for a high-tech scheme!

Major League Baseball conducted an investigation this fall and the fall out has been monumental. It was determined that the Astros organization was guilty of — may I say it — cheating! Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down punishments this week.

First, he fined the Houston Astros $5 million. Not chump change, but if you are a billionaire owner, not that big, either. It was however, the maximum amount Manfred was allowed to assess. That has to give you an idea of how serious the situation was to the commissioner.

Manfred suspended Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow for one year each. The Astros quickly fired both men. Their baseball futures are very much in doubt.

The Commissioner’s findings included mentioning Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, a coach on the 2017 Astros, as a key figure in the cheating scandal. The Red Sox, under Cora, won the 2018 World Series and that title run is under investigation. Within a couple of days the Red Sox and Cora parted ways. His baseball future also is seriously in doubt.

Missing from any disciplinary action were the players themselves. This made me wonder why and I have been trying to get an answer to an obvious question. Why were no players punished? After all, they were the ones who cheated! Here’s what I have found.

There were three reasons no players were punished:

n MLB promised leniency to players who cooperated with the investigation.

n Manfred said it would be “difficult and impractical” to assign blame and proper discipline to players.

n Manfred said managers and general managers would be held responsible for sign-stealing in a 2017 memo.

Let’s take a look at this logic. Going in reverse order, I have no problem with holding managers and general managers responsible for sign stealing. Obviously they were, as the suspensions indicate. Their firings were justified. Whether they should be the only ones held accountable is debatable.

I take exception to the view that it would be difficult and impractical to assign blame and punishment to the players. Everyone on the team had to know what was going on and are equally guilty. Banging a trash can in or near the dugout during a game is not common practice!

They all knew what was happening and that it was illegal. In my opinion every player should be punished. You can promise leniency to get to the truth of the matter and that happened. That doesn’t mean there should be NO punishment of the players.

In the case of this year’s Astros team, perhaps staggering any individual player suspensions could take place. Better yet, let them field a team of minor leaguers for a few weeks. If baseball wants its fans to remain loyal, player suspensions should be considered.

The only player who has felt repercussions from this scandal is Carlos Beltran. A player on the 2017 Astros team, Beltran was hired as the New York Mets manager in November. A couple of days ago, the Mets and Beltran parted ways before he could manage a single game.

As the scandal unfolds, it’s hard not to think about Pete Rose. The all-time hits leader in Major League Baseball history is not in the Hall of Fame. As a manager with the Cincinnati Reds, Rose bet on baseball. He was given a lifetime suspension from baseball for this activity — as he should have. All baseball players, coaches and managers know that betting on the game is not allowed. It is so because the integrity of the game is at stake.

I would think cheating would be on a par with gambling, yet in this instance no punishment for those who did so seems to be forthcoming. That seems wrong.

Baseball did indeed recover from the Black Sox scandal as well as the steroid age of the 1990s. It can recover from this scandal also, but the message must be sent.

Mr. Commissioner: Let everyone know from the little leaguer to the best players in Major League Baseball that cheating will not be tolerated. Do not let the players slide in this case. Send the message loud and clear.

You just may save the game that we all love.

Al Stephenson is a columnist for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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