Cheating Scandal Is Not Going Away

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred continues to have himself an offseason.

Jim Rome
February 17, 2020 - 10:36 am
Rob Manfred and Jim Crane

USA Today


MLB commissioner Rob Manfred continues to have himself an offseason. And by that I mean, a truly terrible offseason. Nobody was more fired up about the NBA All-Star Game than Rob Manfred, because that meant the spotlight was off him for a few hours.

You know he was hoping people would keep Chaka Khan trending or there’d be a serious debate about Kawhi as the first winner of the MVP trophy renamed in honor of Kobe Bryant. And Manfred probably has about fifteen different burner accounts on twitter trying to get a debate going about the game ending on free throws. Anything to get the pressure off him.

Because ever since he released the league’s report on the Astros, the pressure hasn’t released. It’s increased. So he sat down with Karl Ravech yesterday and that really didn’t help either.  If anything, it made even worse. 

Starting with this answer to the question of why the players involved have not been punished.

"I understand people's desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here. I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think they're skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that's just a mischaracterization of where we are.”

WHAT?? Exactly what price have the players paid? Sure, that press conference with Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve was awkward and tedious. And the other players meeting the media in the clubhouse didn’t seem to be having a great time, but do you really think that’s going to satisfy fans of opposing teams? Do you think that’s going to satisfy the opposing teams themselves? Exactly how does that punishment fit that crime? Hell, exactly what is that punishment?? I see how the manager and general manager were punished but when Manfred says the players have paid a price, what the hell is he talking about.  

Do you really think fans and opposing players are going to say, they seemed pretty uncomfortable in that five minute media session, damn, that has to really sting: the commissioner really brought the lumber to those cheaters. Yep….that’s good enough for me! They’ve paid the price! Case closed! Water under the bridge. Let bygones be bygones.

Yeah, I don’t think so….. And Manfred went on.

“Having said that, the desire to have actual discipline imposed on them, I understand it and in a perfect world it would have happened. We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it."

In other words, look, I’d have loved to do it, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Let’s move on.

Yeah, I don’t think anyone is. Moving on. Because that’s not how fans are going to see it. They’re going to see that the only people who’ve really been punished for the cheating scandal are three managers and a general manager. The players, the guys who benefited the most in terms of winning a World Series and having potentially artificially inflated stats are getting off easy.

And here’s where we get to the brass tacks of it. Because Manfred explained that former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow did not communicate to the players about the league wide memo in 2017 after the Red Sox had been caught. And since he did not communicate to the players, the players association would appeal any punishment the league gave to the players, and would probably win that appeal.

I get what he’s saying, but the fact that you couldn’t make the discipline stick leads to the perception that the players got over; that they cheated, they benefitted, they got a ring and nothing happened to them. No discipline, no punishment. In fact, it’s not even a perception: it’s true. At least in the scenario Manfred describes, if you handed down an initial punishment to individual players, then you make them appeal it and if they win the appeal, so be it.

But you’ve tried and you’ve given fans the satisfaction that you tried, you get the good PR from that. And you make the players appeal and fight the nuance of whether or not they knew that banging on trash cans was cheating or not. Put that on them. Make them argue that they didn’t cheat. And if you lose the grievance, you still have won some goodwill: for trying to hold the cheaters accountable. 

But Manfred didn’t do that, which is why fans and opposing players are pissed.

Here’s the thing: Manfred obviously thought there’s no way any of the Astros players would say anything or roll on anyone unless they were guaranteed some immunity.

And they weren’t going to be able to do an investigation without getting the players to talk. So they made a decision that an investigation with no punishment was better than an investigation with no content. I get that, but you can’t expect fans or opposing players to be happy about it.

Then there is the notion of stripping the team of its title. Manfred said it was a big topic among MLB’s senior staff, but It has never happened in baseball. I am a believer in the idea that precedent happens and when you deviate from that, you have to have a very good reason. The report gave people a transparent account of what went on. We put people in position to make their own judgments about the behavior that went on. That certainly has happened over the last month.

"The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act. People will always know that something was different about the 2017 season, and whether we made that decision right or wrong, we undertook a thorough investigation, and had the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty."

There’s a lot there and really, none of it good.

Saying that no team has ever been stripped of a title before and therefore you better have a good reason to do something that’s never happened, is a really weird way of arguing that a large, coordinated cheating scandal isn’t a good reason to strip a team of its title. In fact, that’s a horrible way of arguing it. Maybe the worst.

Because even though I said from the outset the league wasn’t going to strip the Astros of the World Series, what is the precedent now? The precedent now is that you can have a coordinated cheating scandal that tears at the integrity of the game and you still keep the trophy.

If you can’t or won’t punish the players, at least stripping the title probably would’ve gone a long way to making fans and opposing players feel like something was done and a price was paid.

And don’t come in here celebrating your guts for releasing the report. That’s your job. That doesn’t take “intestinal fortitude.” That’s just doing your job. 

That said, it isn’t like there isn’t precedent for this. Unfortunately, there is. The precedent in baseball is that guys cheat and get away with it. Cheaters don’t get stripped of records, or numbers, or contracts.

Barry Bonds, allegedly cheated his way to his records. As did Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and just about everyone else who played in that era. That’s the real problem for baseball is that cheating works and cheaters haven’t really paid much of a price over the years. If anything, they get rewarded with bigger contracts.

And that leads me to another layer of this – the prospect of opposing pitchers taking justice into their own hands this season. Dusty Baker already got out in front of it by raising the prospect of opposing pitchers hitting Astros players. Manfred said he’s been working on a memo about that and has more in mind.

“Over the next three days, I'm going to meet with all of the managers in MLB and the topic that you raise will be one of the things I intend to address with them. Simply not appropriate to express frustration you have growing out of the Astros' situation by putting someone physically at risk by throwing at them. It's simply not acceptable."

This is where I agree with the commissioner. The idea of essentially throwing a rock at a guy at 100 miles per hour from 60 feet away because you didn’t like something they did is unacceptable. I get that opposing players are pissed and want to enact some level of retaliation. But throwing at guys is dangerous as hell. And if that ball slips and smashes someone in the face, shatters his face, or worse, nobody is going to be better off because of it.

If you feel like you got robbed, either as a player or a fan, by the 2017 Astros, I get that. And if you feel like the league failed you in how they handled it, I get that too. But you cannot take the law into your own hands and intentionally attempt to hurt them. That is so insanely dangerous and should not be condoned or tolerated by any player or any team, no matter how angry they are.