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The Astros, The Punishment, Reactions, and What’s Next?

Yesterday, MLB came down pretty hard on the Astros. Did they come down “crushingly hard?” No, it didn’t seem so. But they did come down pretty hard.

Managers and General Managers, historically, don’t get long suspensions. Both were suspended for a year. That’s coming down hard.

I give the Astros’ owner a great deal of credit for stating that he does not want his team to be associated with this cheating, at all. He took the next big step by firing them both the manager and GM. That was the right decision for the owner. As the owner, he wants to set a high bar. Good for him.

Next, Astros draft picks were lost for the first and second rounds for the next two years. That’s a minimum of four players, the first four players the Astros would have been able to pick, two players a year for two years. That’s harsh.

The team was fined five million dollars. That is the maximum penalty the team could have been fined. They got the maximum. By definition, that’s harsh.

Losing the manager, the general manager, top draft picks, and being fined the maximum amount…that’s big stuff. Baseball came down hard on the Astros.

But did baseball come down hard enough?

One thing that happens in our world today is people want immediate reactions. We’re asked to pontificate on subjects without giving them enough thought. The public demands answers – NOW!. At the same time, we know that serious issues deserve serious thought. For that reason (the idea that serious issues deserve serious thought) I’m not going to jump into a host of “could have, would have, should have” statements and conclusions on this. Instead I mostly have questions. I’ll give my perspectives, but I am also going to say that this deserves deeper thought – over time. Immediate reactions are just that – immediate. A situation like this deserves more than a few hours of consideration and reflection.

I do believe baseball needed to come down hard on the Astros. And, in the immediacy of this all (I wrote this post on Monday night and scheduled it to go “live” today (Tuesday) at 6:00 am) it seems they did. That being said, and I am reserving the right to think (much) more on this, the fact that players were not punished in some way seems… light. And not right. At all.

I saw a report that indicated that most, if not all, of the starting position player on the Astros admitted to taking part in getting signs, relaying signs, and some even saying they were part of the trashcan banging. In other words, these players admitted to benefiting from the cheating in some way and also in taking part in it. For that, they each needed a consequence.

I also saw that many Astros players said, “We would have stopped if the manager just told us to.” My gut reaction to that is that the excuse sounds very lame. “We knew it was wrong, we knew we crossed the line, but we weren’t told to stop.” To me, that doesn’t cut it. These are not children, they are grown men, who each made the choice to cheat. They didn’t need to be told by their manager to stop. The fact that he didn’t tell them to stop cost manager A.J. Hinch his job, but the players should have, and did, know better. All it takes is one person to stand up for what is right. None of them did. For that, there needs to be consequences.

I know there is an argument being made that if baseball suspended the players, there might have been a war with the player’s union. That might be true, or seem true, but I disagree. Even if the player’s union fought MLB, doing the right thing (punishing the players) should have been part of the response from MLB. But, that being said, the player’s union has cooperated in the discipline of players. For instance, and I am not comparing the two situations, at all, but the MLB Players Association worked cooperatively with the MLB on the Domingo German situation. To say they wouldn’t have cooperated on the cheating scandal, to me, seems a bit of a stretch. The players’ union represents all players, not just Astros players, and a case can be made, and I’ll make it, that more total MLB players were hurt by this scandal than helped by this. The only ones who benefited from the cheating were the Astros players. How about the Yankees players and the Dodgers players who lost in the ALCS and World Series to a team that now admitted to cheating that post season? These players were denied their moments of glory. That’s a lot of players who were hurt. A lot. How about Aaron Judge, who can claim that he lost his MVP in 2017 to Jose Altuve who cheated? Yeah, Judge was wronged. So many players were wronged.

A punishment should have been enacted on the Astros players. They all needed to face consequences. The fact that they didn’t is troubling.

And disappointing.

That being said, the players will face consequences in other ways. Can you imagine being an Astros player now visiting an opponent’s ballpark? My goodness, that won’t be fun. I imagine there will be lots of boos, lots of cat calls, lots of “Cheaters” chants. That won’t be fun. Those chants, that reaction from fans in every opponent’s ballpark will be relentless. It’ll be worse in some cities. I imagine it’ll be very loud and very tough in the Bronx. (Ethan suggests Waste Management sponsoring “Trash Can Lid Night” at Yankee Stadium when the Astros come to New York in September. Could you imagine?)

So many of us dreamed of being big league players growing up. (At least one of us, me, still dreams of it, even as a 51-year old man.) In those dreams, I think we all imagine cheers, applause, and adulation as our names are called. We imagine being heroes. I don’t imagine that most kids dream of reaching the Major Leagues and facing a never ending barrage of boos.

Also, forever, in each player’s heart and soul, he’ll know that his awards and the trophies he won, and his World Series ring are all tainted. The joy for these things is now lost – forever. While that’s not a direct consequence from Major League Baseball, it’s a real consequence and it’ll be part of each of these player’s legacies – forever. This will also come up when people discuss these players’ Hall-of-Fame chances someday. “He won three Silver Sluggers, but none after 2019…” (for example). All of that will cause doubt. Just as steroids are keeping people out of the Hall-of-Fame, this might as well.

Still, I think MLB should have handed down consequence for each player. They each need to feel the sting of being part of the biggest cheating scandal since 1919.

The other questions that come up are:

Should the 2017 World Series trophy be vacated? (A good case could be made that it should. Baseball can say there was no champion that year.)

Should Jose Altuve still be considered the Most Valuable Player from 2017? (Taking awards away in sports isn’t unprecedented – Heisman Awards have been taken away, for instance.) Should that award then go to Aaron Judge? While he has (hopefully) a long career ahead of him, and while MVPs are not the sole criterion to get people into the Hall-of-Fame, the lack of them can sometimes keep a player out. Judge lost his to a player that cheated.

These consequences all center on the 2017 Astros, but there are compelling reasons to believe that these same practices took place in 2018 and 2019. The Yankees were complaining about the Astros cheating in the most recent playoff series. Arguments have been made that Jose Altuve knew that Aroldis Chapman was going to throw a slider on his game and series ending homerun. Will MLB be investigating this as well? (I think they should.) (I think they must.) It is unreasonable to assume that they stopped cheating after 2017. MLB must continue to look into all of this.

And what about the bigger picture on how this hurt other players whose careers were negatively impacted by the Astros’ cheating. Do they have any avenue of recourse?

What about the Yankees franchise and, even bigger, the City of New York (and etc.). These games are played because they bring in revenue, huge amounts of revenue, to teams and cities and businesses and etc. New York lost out on the 2017 World Series because of the Astros’ antics. You can say the Astros cheated all of New York (including the Yankees) out of untold millions of dollars. Hotels, cabbies, restaurants, candy sellers, ticket collectors, and so many others lost income in 2017 because of what the Astros did. Many teams and cities lost out on what the Astros did. The Astros didn’t just cheat the game. It’s bigger than that.

The Astros also stained the game itself. Baseball now suffers from a host of negative publicity. This is a huge consequence for all in the sport. This impact won’t be known for years, but it is bound to be extremely impactful.

The Astros also brought shame to their own city and fans. How many Astros fans will wear any of their championship merchandise from 2017? I suspect not many. Do the fans deserve a refund on all that tainted merchandise?

And, then the last question, at least for now, the one we all hope can be answered in the affirmative – “Is my team innocent of things like this?” I hate to wonder, but part of me does. I sure hope the Yankees haven’t done something similar. I want my team to play clean and fair and honestly. I hope they did…and I hope they do. I believe in the franchise. I hope I’m never proven wrong.

The next part of this investigation will focus on the 2018 Red Sox. I assume their manager, Alex Cora, will be fired, very soon. I doubt he’ll ever be part of the game again. I think the same will be true of A.J. Hinch of the Astros. I cannot imagine a team saying, “Yes, we want him as our manager.”

It’s sad that this all happened. The reverberations from this scandal will last a long time.

I hope the consequences, delivered by MLB and the residual ones that also come, are enough to detract any player and any team from doing something like this in the future.

I love baseball. I want the games to be played honestly and fairly. Hopefully we’ll have that going forward.

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