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Two of Baseball’s Biggest Problem(s)

Let’s begin this post with a question…

Why were Shoeless Joe Jackson (and seven of his teammates) kicked out of baseball?

I have to ask another…

Why is Joe Jackson not in the Hall-of-Fame?

And, another…

Why is Pete Rose not in the Hall-of-Fame?

And one more…

Why aren’t Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the Hall-of-Fame?

The answers to all of those questions are as obvious as they are plain. The answers can be summed up in one word:

Integrity.

Joe Jackson, his teammates, and Pete Rose were all kicked out of baseball because they were accused (or found guilty) of betting on games or throwing games. They compromised the integrity of the sport. They cheated. Since 1920, baseball has always held a firm line on cheating and gambling. It cannot be allowed. Cheaters will be kicked out of the game and will be on the permanently ineligible list.

Baseball feels that allowing players or managers who cheat or gamble on their games is bad business. Baseball feels that these actions compromise the integrity of the sport.

The games have to be played fairly.

For the sport to thrive, baseball games have to be seen as legitimate. They have to be real. The playing field has to be equal.

Cheating is not allowed. Gambling is not allowed. These things hurt the sport’s integrity.

And, you know what? Baseball is correct to hold firm on all of this. For the game to succeed and thrive, it has to be seen as legitimate. The games have to be real.

Baseball must have integrity.

I’m not here today to argue the cases for or against Joe Jackson or Pete Rose. That’s not the point of this article. This article is simply pointing out why they have received the consequences and punishments that they have received. (And I understand that it is the BBWAA, not baseball itself, that is not electing certain players into the Hall-of-Fame, but the point is clear… cheating, of any kind, perceived or real, cannot be tolerated.)

Baseball must have integrity.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of baseball’s greatest players, are not in the Hall-of-Fame because of the belief (or the evidence) that they used steroids to prolong or enhance their careers. There is a sense (real or otherwise) that their career totals and accomplishments are tainted because they used artificial means to achieve those ends. Bonds and Clemens are not alone in this; they are just the biggest two names of players denied entry into the Hall-of-Fame because of the belief that they compromised the game’s integrity by cheating.

Cheaters never win, baseball (as an industry) says. Bonds might be the all-time homerun king, but he isn’t in the Hall-of-Fame because he cheated. Clemens might be the greatest pitcher of his generation, but he’s not in the Hall-of-Fame because he cheated.

Baseball must have integrity.

The sport has no room for cheaters – however they cheat.

The game must be played honestly and fairly.

Baseball must have integrity.

For the games to be taken seriously, for the sport to thrive, for fans to have any faith or trust in the games and the game itself, the sport must have integrity.

It must.

***

While baseball takes its strong stance on gambling and steroid use (which, for the record, by and large, I agree with) it is, at the same time, allowing other things to threaten the integrity of the game.

And this has been going on for years. The accusations are not new. They just haven’t been addressed as openly or as apparently as the cases of Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens (to name a few).

Teams are supposedly cheating. It seems that there are more and more instances of teams using technology to steal signs. Baseball teams are being accused of threatening the very integrity of the game.

There was credible evidence that the Red Sox used Apple Watches to steal signs that gave them an unfair advantage. As this article from the New York Times indicates, the Red Sox are not the first team to be credibly accused of illegal sign stealing. As the article notes, there were complaints about the Mets stealing signs in 1997 and the Phillies doing the same in 2011 – with no disciplinary action taken by the league. After the league investigated the Red Sox actions, the team was fined an undisclosed amount of money by the commissioner’s office (as were the Yankees for a different, but similar violation). Still, the consequences seem rather tame when compared against other actions that also mar the integrity of the game. As part of his ruling in the Red Sox and Yankees cases, the commissioner threatened that draft picks could be lost if future allegations of electronic sign stealing prove to be true.

Then, yesterday, amid accusations for years, new allegations of the Astros stealing signs electronically were reported. According to reports, the Astros have been cheating for years. This claim seems to have been substantiated all over the media as the following articles (just three of many) suggest:

MLB must address sign-stealing scandal after report on Astros’ video espionage

Astros used electronic sign-stealing method during title-winning 2017 season, report says

Astros Accused Of Illegal Use Of Technology To Steal Signs

A key quote from that last linked article reads, “Teams are increasingly wary that other clubs are utilizing technology to gain a competitive edge and steal signs, with one anonymous MLB manager telling The Athletic that such habits “permeate” the league and that MLB has done a “very poor job” policing the issue.

Will baseball discipline the Astros for this – if proven true? Will there be a severe penalty for cheating?

Doesn’t it seem that amid all the allegations of cheating that baseball has done a “very poor job” in dealing with this issue?

Have not the Astros (and any team that does this type of sign stealing) threatened the integrity of the game? Aren’t they cheating?

This isn’t a new concern, but where has baseball’s strong stance against electronic sign stealing been? Their only public action has been an undisclosed fine to the Red Sox and a lesser undisclosed fine levied on the Yankees.

Does that seem enough? The way this has been handled seems to indicate, at least on some level, that baseball hasn’t taken this very real issue – one that absolutely impacts the integrity of the game – seriously enough.

Further, if baseball does not address this, isn’t the very integrity of the game, every single game, threatened?

Did the 2017 World Champion Astros become champions because they cheated? Did the Astros reach the World Series by cheating again in 2019?

This is a huge issue because it strikes at the very core of the integrity of the sport. It strikes at the sport’s very foundations. Major League Baseball needs to get out in front of this.

The very integrity of the game, the one thing that baseball (and any sport needs above all else), has been compromised. The sport’s integrity has been threatened.

This must be addressed with the same seriousness that the game deals with other examples (gambling and steroids) of cheating that strike at the game’s integrity.

But, sadly, or disturbingly, sign stealing is not the only thing that is compromising baseball’s integrity. There’s more. And maybe, just maybe, this next concern is even greater, because, if true, it also strikes at the very game itself. This next accusation strikes at the fact that it seems the sport is allowing itself to be manipulated or is manipulating the game through the very product that is at the core of the game itself – the baseball.

It is possible that the sign stealing problem isn’t a problem across baseball, that it is a only problem with a few isolated teams. That could be true.

But manipulating the baseballs – that’s not a team problem, or problems with just some teams, that’s an industry wide problem. Industry wide.

And it strikes, maybe even more than anything else, at the heart – the very integrity – of the game.

True or not, there was the sense that the baseball used in 2019 was juiced. Why were so many homeruns hit? Many very reputable experts believe that it was the juiced ball. The juiced ball is referenced in article after article – from blogs to major newspapers. It’s discussed in every media outlet. The fact that the ball has been juiced is taken as a given. Juicing the ball is taken as something that the sport just does, or did, or will do (might do) again.

The amount of articles on this are legion. Here are just a few:

We X-Rayed Some MLB Baseballs. Here’s What We Found

These scientists may have solved MLB’s ‘juiced’ baseball problem

There’s no denying juiced baseballs are behind MLB’s historic home run surge

The fact that Major League Baseball seems to manipulate the very balls that are used in the games strikes at the very heart of the game’s integrity.

Juicing a ball changes the game just as much as a player on steroids. Changing the ball changes the game. Using different balls from one season to the next radically alters the way the game is played, the records that are set, the ways teams are built, and the salaries players earn. It absolutely changes how teams will perform. A General Manager will build a team a certain way based on the data he has. If the ball is then changed, a team, which might have succeeded with a different ball, maybe the exact ball used the season before, might end up losing, or playing poorly.

The ever-changing ball, from one season to the next, is something that strikes at the very integrity of the game. For the game to be taken seriously, the ball cannot be changed from season to season.

But, what supposedly happened this year, for the post season, would, if proven true, absolutely and positively strike at the game’s legitimacy and integrity. Because it seems possible, as has been reported far and wide, that Major League Baseball changed the balls used in game play this year for the post season. It seems that the juiced ball used in the 2019 regular season wasn’t used in the post season and that a different ball was substituted. Again the articles on this are legion:

Have baseballs been altered for October? What to know about the evidence with fewer homers

The Rocket Ball Has Disappeared In October (sub. required)

Could the Dejuiced Baseball Send MLB Into Another Dead-Ball Era?

MLB May Have Completely Changed its Baseballs for the Playoffs and Nobody Knows Why

The Postseason Baseball Has Created a New, Homer-Challenged Reality

What one notices when reading this articles is words like “juiced baseball” are taken as absolute fact. The question of whether the ball is manipulated from time to time is taken as an absolute fact – a given.

If this is true, it’s a big problem.

If this is true, the very integrity of the sport has been compromised. A sport cannot thrive when the rules, or the equipment itself, is manipulated from season to season, from regular season to post season…or ever. This strikes at the very essence of the game.

Its integrity.

But the fact that so many people, serious people, in and around the industry seem to believe that the baseball itself is changed, and was changed again for the post season creates a gigantic crisis of confidence in the games that are played.

Baseball’s integrity is being questioned. And this is not good. At all. The very legitimacy of the sport is being questioned.

And while it seems to be a given that the baseball itself is manipulated, the leaders of the sport are seemingly denying it.

I believe that it’s time for baseball to address these problems transparently and completely. I believe the leaders of the sport have to state, very clearly, that the concerns regarding sign stealing and the balls themselves that are being used are being taken very seriously. The Commissioner’s Office needs to get in front of these issues and demonstrate that cheating and manipulating equipment will not be tolerated in the sport. If necessary, they need to hire firms to authenticate the balls that are used from game to game and season to season to guarantee their legitimacy and consistency. Likewise, if teams have been found to be stealing signs electronically, they need to face harsh consequences – similar to the harsh consequences the players who threatened the game’s integrity feel so that teams are aware that sign stealing, and cheating of any kind is not tolerated and will negatively impact on their chances for immediate success and success in the future.

Baseball needs to get out in front of these issues.

The integrity of the game demands it.

Absolutely.

And the time to do this is right now.

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