EDITORIAL: MLB boss swings and misses when handing out punishment in sign-stealing scandal
The Houston Astros did wrong, Rob Manfred got it wrong and Larry Bowa is just plain wrong.
In a nutshell, that’s the sad predicament that Major League Baseball finds itself in.
By now, nearly everyone is well aware of the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked the sport, in general, and the Astros, in particular.
The team has admitted to an elaborate, and illegal, system of stealing the signs of opposing teams in 2017 through electronic means. That just happens to be the year the Astros won the World Series.
On Jan. 13, the Houston manager and general manager were suspended for the 2020 season by Manfred, who is the MLB commissioner. Just an hour later, the Astros fired both men.
Manfred also decreed that the team would also get hit with a $5 million fine, the maximum allowed, and would forfeit its first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
All of those punishments were completely justified.
There was just one problem. The punishments didn’t go far enough.
Players deserved punishment: None of the Astros players involved were punished at all. They were granted immunity by Manfred for taking part in the investigation.
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The lack of player punishment has created a huge public-relations backlash for the sport. Manfred responded to that criticism Sunday with the following lame defense:
“If you look at the faces of the Houston players as they’re publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this,” Manfred said “They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives, and frankly, it’s rare for any offense that you have a punishment you will live with for the rest of your life.”
Empty apologies: Mr. Commissioner, you couldn’t have watched the same video that the rest of nation saw last week when the Astros players made their first public apologies. The apologies were obviously forced, insincere and, ultimately, empty.
The players weren’t sorry for their actions. They were only sorry they got caught. They obviously live by the old NASCAR adage that “if you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”
Public shame means little to those players. Manfred could only do two things to truly punish them — vacate their 2017 World Series title or give them long suspensions without pay. He elected to do neither.
Fear of the union? Manfred claims that player immunity was necessary to complete the investigation. That may be true, but there’s a lingering suspicion among many that the real reason the players weren’t punished is because Manfred didn’t want to deal with the wrath of the baseball players union, which is universally regarded as the strongest and most-feared in all of pro sports.
You have to wonder, however, how strongly the union would have defended the Astros players, since many of the union’s members on other teams have publicly blasted the Astros for their sign-stealing scam.
Old-school response: Some members of baseball’s old-school community have hinted that a few well-placed pitches to the ribs of Houston players are in order. That includes the 74-year-old Bowa, a former standout shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies, who said the Astros should get drilled this season by opposing pitchers for cheating.
Well, that’s certainly not a reasonable response. First, and most importantly, it’s extremely dangerous. Second, it could lead to constant on-field brawls. And third, it would only hurt the team throwing the beanballs by putting runners on base, possibly leading to runs and losses.
Manfred did get one thing right when he said such retaliation would not be tolerated. The implication was clear that severe punishment would follow such actions.
We just wish Manfred would have been just as tough when meting out punishment to the sign-stealing Astros players.