Houston Astros: Do cheaters sometimes prosper?
Until last week, baseball’s Houston Astros were considered the “defining team” of the 2010s, said Jeremy Venook in TheAtlantic.com. That may still be true, but in the worst way possible. Major League Baseball revealed last week that the Astros ran an elaborate sign-stealing scheme during their 2017 championship season, using a video camera in their home stadium to read the opposing team’s signs from catcher to pitcher, decoding the signs on a monitor near the dugout, and then alerting their hitter—by banging on a garbage can—what pitch to expect. There is also unconfirmed speculation that some players wore electronic buzzers under their uniforms. The scheme was evidently highly effective: In the 2017 playoffs, Astros star José Altuve batted .472 at home and only .173 on the road, while for catcher Brian McCann, the difference was .300 vs. .037. The league’s toothless response made this scandal even more damaging, said Mike Downey in CNN.com. The Astros were fined a paltry $5 million and fired their manager and general manager after MLB suspended them. But not a single player “has gotten the heave-ho or lost a red cent,” and their diamond-encrusted rings “will still have ‘2017 World Series Champions’ etched into them, forever and ever.” Let’s face it: “The bad guys won.”
That’s not quite true, said Barry Svrluga in WashingtonPost.com. Former Astros players Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán—who were deeply involved in setting up the sign stealing—both lost managerial jobs this week, and the Astros’ championship will be “forever stained.” And how could MLB punish active players or void the Astros’ championship when sign stealing has been “baked into baseball culture for a century?” In 1876, the Hartford Dark Blues were caught stealing signs by hiding a man on a telegraph pole behind the outfield wall, said Will Leitch in NYMag.com. We learned a few years ago that the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson was tipped off to the pitch he hit for the “Shot Heard ’Round the World” homer to win the 1951 National League pennant. “Players will always try to gain an advantage,” especially now that success can bring tens of millions of dollars. A periodic cheating scandal is part of what makes baseball so colorful and “absolutely irresistible.”
That view is both deeply cynical and wrong, said Thomas Boswell in The Washington Post. Baseball isn’t pro wrestling; most fans want to believe that they’re watching fair contests, and this scandal “has been a giant boulder heaved in the center of the lake” of baseball’s credibility. Just ask fans of the teams the Astros beat in the playoffs and World Series in 2017 if they think their cheating was colorful and entertaining.
Some cynicism is warranted, said Bryan Graham in TheGuardian.com. Thomson’s homer and the Giants’ victory stands. So does the Astros’ World Championship, and the New England Patriots’ six Super Bowl victories after they were caught deflating footballs and spying on other teams’ practices and coaches’ signals. After the 2008 economic collapse, Wall Street fraudsters didn’t go to jail, and the banks that “separated millions of Americans from their homes, their jobs, and their life savings” got bailed out. In America, a “grudging respect” for winning at any cost is woven into our “spiritual DNA.” We’re told as children that “cheaters never win,” said Doug McIntyre in the Los Angeles Daily News, but we soon find out that life isn’t always fair. Cheaters do win. “Sometimes, they win bigly.” ■