In full disclosure, yours truly must confess my biases. I’m a lifelong Dodgers baseball fan, and it was my beloved Dodgers who “lost” to the Houston Astros in the 2017 World Series.
But I’m also a stickler for truth, integrity, and the rules because without them, baseball becomes something much less majestic. It becomes like the rest of the fallen world: a tainted scheme of arbitrary outcomes dictated by influence, power, and money. It becomes like the worst of human institutions, like politics.
Even the Astros admit today they cheated in the 2017 season. The point isn’t that the Astros won the 2017 World Series because they cheated. The point is that the Astros shouldn’t be permitted to win because they cheated.
Had the Astros announced before the first game of the World Series that they intended to cheat, they wouldn’t have been allowed even to take the field. This isn’t difficult to fathom. Imagine that the Astros had announced before the series that every player on the team was going to use steroids to enhance his performance, in violation of baseball’s rules. Without a doubt, they would not have been permitted to play.
It’s not winning or losing that determines the penalty. It’s whether they cheated. And they did, indisputably.
MLB should erase the Astros’ participation from the record books and vacate the 2017 championship not because they won by cheating, but because they cheated.
Major League Baseball should also fine and suspend for an appropriate length of time — I suggest three years — everyone on the 2017 Astros roster, who concealed what they had done for more than two years, making them all accessories before and after the fact. In politics, that’s called a cover-up.
They each should certainly return their World Series championship rings. That any Astro still has the gall to wear the gaudy display of an ill-gotten championship indicates lack of remorse, irrespective of scattered public apologies by a few of the team members.
Penalties not only deliver justice, they deter future transgressions. The lack of appropriate penalties signals the behavior will be tolerated, if not rewarded.
Like Bill Clinton, the politician, the Astros are sorry. They are sorry they got caught. Also like Clinton, their sorrow doesn’t mean they truly repent of their transgression. But at least Clinton relinquished his claim to Monica Lewinsky. The Astros still cling to their trophy, as if they earned it the old-fashioned way: honestly.
The integrity of baseball requires honesty. Dishonesty cannot be permitted. Had Pete Rose honestly announced before his Cincinnati Reds took the field that he had placed a bet on the game, he would not have been allowed to take the field with his team. Because his illicit gambling in violation of baseball rules only became public after the fact, Rose is rightly denied entry to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Astros players aren’t even barred from spring training. Apart from the public shame they may or may not feel, they continue their baseball careers as if nothing untoward occurred.
It’s true that the Astros, Boston Red Sox, and New York Mets have forced out managers who were involved in the 2017 cheating. But it’s noteworthy that even those punishments came only after the league heavily fined the Astros team for the cheating scandal. That too is like politics. Some fall guy is arbitrarily offered up for the sins of the party.
Should any Astros players’ careers end up worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, we trust the selection committee will think long and hard before granting admission to any exposed and confessed cheaters, in the same way they have considered the case of Rose. At least Rose’s misbehavior was a solo act. Every Astro player knew what was going on all season and either willingly participated or willingly concealed the cheating. The Astros’ rule-breaking was a conspiracy.
There is already a sense that Major League Baseball is losing its attraction to fans. If MLB wants to appeal to America, it should strive to be more like the ideals reflected in its rulebook, and less like the world of politics. There aren’t many devoted fans to politics, where misdeeds, self-serving, and cover-ups reign. Instead, let’s play ball — by the rules.