Major League Baseball’s obsession with the evils of cheating has been disgraced, as the people in charge have, in effect, let the latest and most publicized cheaters off the hook.
But the players, themselves, have taken up the responsibility for imposing penalties.
Baseball players’ and fans’ devotion to fair play dates back a century or more. Shoeless Joe Jackson of the Chicago White Sox famously admitted to accepting $5,000, along with eight teammates, to throw the 1919 World Series.
Evidence since has revealed that the nearly illiterate Jackson, one of the greatest players of all time, probably did no such thing. In fact, he was the hitting star of that series and committed no errors in the field. Nevertheless, for some reason, he reportedly told a grand jury he had had a role in throwing the series.
In 2017, the Houston Astros were accused of electronically stealing signs against opponents and using the information to go on to win the American League championship and then the World Series.
The next year, the Boston Red Sox were accused of doing virtually the same thing and again capitalizing on the stolen info to win baseball's top prize.
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred imposed penalties on both teams, but the penalties were considered by most fans to be tepid.
The Sox’s replay-room operator, J.T. Watkins (a West Point graduate) was suspended without pay for the 2020 season.
The Astros were fined $5 million and lost draft picks for the next season. The manager and general manager, determined to be complicit in the scheme, were barred for a season. The team eventually fired both.
But the championships stand – neither team was forced to concede their titles or trophies.
Players on other teams were understandably outraged. Non-fans probably underestimate the personal value each player places on spending an entire season pursuing and then finally winning the World Series. But the value is extraordinary.
In spring training this year, the Astros had been targeted by fans and opponents alike – the fans were bellowing their most robust boos, and the other teams’ pitchers were throwing at Astros hitters relentlessly, even though that, too, is against the rules.
So the COVID-19-imposed season delay relieved Astros players of some discomfort – maybe misery.
But now that they’re playing again, the heat so abundantly deserved is renewed. In their first game against the LA Dodgers, the team that lost that abused World Series against the disgraced cheaters, Dodger reliever Joe Kelly threw at Astros star Alex Bregman, provoking a benches-clearing faceoff.
Manfred subsequently suspended Kelly for eight games; no Astros were suspended for any games for their far more grievous offense.
To other MLB players and to most knowledgeable fans, Kelly is a hero and the Astros are still villains.
The season is still very young, and the virus may not even allow it to proceed to its conclusion.
But the hope is that those cheating Astros – and, to some extent, the seemingly forgotten cheating Red Sox – will be agonized for the remainder of whatever season remains and even beyond.
Baseball rules are clear and their intent is pure. Besmirching them must not be forgiven or forgotten.