What would the answer be if you approached a stranger on the street and asked him or her what’s going on in the world of sports as of late? Probably either “The NFL Draft” or “Get the hell away from me, you idiot. You need to social distance and, also, I’d add: why the hell are you asking me questions about sports when the whole world is cancelled?” Said imaginary person wouldn’t be wrong for missing out on a pretty hefty chunk of baseball-related news.
On Wednesday, the day before the NFL Draft began, MLB announced that they’d finally made a decision on punishment for the Red Sox’ sign stealing scandal in 2018, the same year they won a World Series title. We’d known something was in the works for a long while, and it was pretty much confirmed way back in January. As we noted during our very serious conversation about sign stealing when Houston’s punishment was meted out for their antics, Houston’s erstwhile bench coach/Boston’s manager Alex Cora, specifically didn’t receive any punishment for what happened in Houston because the Boston investigation was still underway.
But now we know for sure that Boston didn’t stop using tech to steal signs after they got busted using an Apple Watch in 2017. The Red Sox employed a far less brazen technique, one that didn’t involve banging on trash cans, and, according to Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report, simply involved their replay coordinator picking up on signs using replay video and passing that information on to players.
Boston is, unsurprisingly, getting a much more lenient sentence, losing only a second round pick in this year’s draft (where Houston lost their first and second rounders for the next two years) and no fine (Houston was hit with a $5 million penalty, the most MLB could hit ‘em with). The only person in the Red Sox organization to get dinged was said replay coordinator, J.T. Watkins, who was suspended for 2020 and locked out of the replay room for 2021. Alex Cora was suspended for the remainder of this season, but that was for his part in Houston’s scandal and he was absolved of any guilt in Boston’s “scandal” (a word that MLB clearly doesn’t want invoked from here on out).
While Houston’s antics were far more egregious and deserving of harsher punishment, it absolutely defies belief to pin everything on the replay guy and imagine that nobody but Watkins and a handful of players knew what was going on. Houston wasn’t able to hide their guilt quite as effectively because of the ridiculous trash can method they used. But, really, Cora, the manager of the damn Red Sox, who basically brought the trash can technique to Houston, had no idea what was going on? That is an extremely tough pill to swallow.
And while it’s probably unfair that the suspensions that Houston’s manager A.J. Hinch and President of Baseball Operations Jeff Luhnow received turned out to basically not matter since the season looks pretty dead in the water, it’s a little jarring to see Cora get the same punishment in a world where we are actually aware of that fact. So, yeah, the video guy is the fall guy and they lost a second rounder. That’s not exactly the kind of threat that’s going to teach teams that cheating is bad, mmmkay.
Punishing players is a tricky proposition, for sure, but MLB’s approach in doling out the the Astros’ punishment at least seemed to demonstrate that those in charge were going to face the music in the event their team was cheating. That’s no longer the case and it seems like teams basically have carte blanche to break the rules, so long as they can establish plausible deniability. Dropping this news the day before the NFL drafted in the middle of a pandemic certainly smells of burying the lede, too.
Obviously, there are bigger, more important problems on our minds right now, both in the real world and the sports world, as a result of those real world problems. To name a couple of sports-related issues, sportswriters are in an extremely precarious situation and MLB is now involved in a lawsuit because they’re refusing to return ticket holders’ money, despite the fact that it’s pretty obvious at this point that a season is either not happening at all or, if it does, is going to be shortened and almost certainly played with empty bleachers. Basic statistics dictate that some of those ticket holders are now without jobs and could use that cash back in their pockets to pay for things slightly more important than baseball tickets to games that aren’t going to happen or they won’t be able to attend.
But just because there’s other, more important things going down, that doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that MLB has basically failed to establish clear standards of accountability when it comes to enforcing its rules. It may not matter right now, but when we return to whatever semblance of normalcy comes our way in the near future and we can get back to yelling at each other on the internet about sports, MLB is giving us plenty of fodder and has pretty much made it clear that they don’t actually care about teams cheating, which would actually be fine if they really came out and said it. Instead we’ve got a system where everyone’s going to continue to cheat, just with a little less trash can. And, when they get busted, it’s going to be the little guy that takes the fall and the world will keep on turning. I guess it’s at least a little comforting to see that some things stay the same, even in the middle of a global pandemic.