Improper Guidance Is No Excuse for Cheating – Especially When Grownups Are Involved

The New York Times got my dander up this morning with an article on how Houston Astros players apologized for the sign-stealing that helped them win the 2017 World Series. No one seems to call this cheating. They call it sign-stealing, and in baseball, stealing is, after all, part of the game. “What we did in 2017 was terrible,” they said. But they didn’t actually say what they did. They cheated. That’s how I read the statement: how they cheated in 2017 was terrible. It was.

What really raised my hackles was the preposterous pre-apology caveat that Astros owner Jim Crane gave. According to the Times, Crane said, “Our players should not be punished for these actions. These are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from their leaders?”

Did Jim Crane just throw the players parents and guardians and teachers and mentors under the bus? Is he really saying that no one ever told “these guys” that cheating was not okay? That, somehow, this team of players who presumably came from all over, managed to come together in one place, having gone through their entire life not understanding that cheating was bad? Their “leaders” might not have prevented it from happening, but aren’t players held accountable for their actions?

There are consequences if a player is caught (cheating by) using performance enhancing drugs. Is Jim Crane saying that when this happens, it is not the player’s fault, but the fault of their failed leadership? Why then is the player punished in this case, and not the leader? If a player is charged with domestic violence and suspended, is Jim Crane saying that these guys shouldn’t be punished because they didn’t receive proper guidance from their leaders?

I call foul! Every player who took the signs from the electronic source, every player who banged on a trashcan, every player who acted on those bangs knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew the implications. They made their own decisions, whether or not they received proper guidance from their leaders. Because of that, because of the conspiratorial nature of the cheating, the players should be punished, and the Astros should be stripped of their title as message that Major League Baseball and its fans won’t tolerate this behavior.

This debacle makes it clearer than ever that Pete Rose should be reinstated in good standing and allowed to qualify for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Unlike the Houston players, Rose received the harshest possible penalty for a crime that, so far as I can tell, was no better or worse than the that of the 2017 Astros. The Astros got off with a title and no players were punished. Rose was banned for life. Last week, in another piece, two law professors made a good case for Pete Rose in light of Houston’s behavior.

Can Houston redeem themselves? Only by making a hard choice: If Houston voluntarily gave up its 2017 title an admission of wrong-doing and act of contrition, they would go a long way to redeeming the character of the team and the players involved. Baseball is a business, so such an act seems unlikely. On the other hand, what benefit it is to Houston’s players, fans and management to have the stigma of a tainted world championship hanging over them. Is anyone affiliated with the 2017 Astros really proud of this?

One comment

  1. This is an interesting point of view. It is hard to have any sympathy for these athletes because of the insane amounts of money they make to do something many of us would die to do for free. I completely agree with (1) their championship should be stripped (although, really, an asterisk in record books will unfortunately never take that moment of glory away from them)and (2) Pete Rose’s punishment looks ridiculous in comparison.

    But I do think there is a distinction between an action that a player takes to benefit only himself (steroids) and participating in a team-wide conspiracy. If was truly driven top down from the management, it would take a real hero to refuse to participate, potentially jeopardizing your career, your chance at a championship, millions of dollars, and your standing the baseball community. I’d like to say that if I were in that situation, I would stand up and do the right thing.

    But if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not so sure.

    As long as there is so much money in sports, there will be cheating. There is such a monetary difference in sports between first place and second place. Beyond salary and bonuses, the stars of the first place often go onto become household names, earning millions more in outside-the-game endorsements.

    That line between the hero who lives like a king and the guy who toils away in the minors barely making enough to get by is razor thin. That’s a recipe for cheating

    I don’t need their fake apologies, but I don’t think individual players should be singled out for special punishments. They cheated as a team, they should be punished as a team–and the current punishment was certainly not enough.

    Great blog. Always love your thoughts, particular on baseball and reading.



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