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MLB's Manfred Faces Integrity Test With Astros' Case

At a press conference a year ago to announce a contract extension to his original five-year pact, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred declared that “every single day has really been a great experience for me."

We’re about to put that statement to the test when Manfred confronts the greatest challenge to a commissioner’s stewardship since Kenesaw Mountain Landis nearly a century ago.

And just as Landis did, in dealing with the Black Sox scandal, Manfred will have to face issues of integrity surrounding the game.

Manfred, who, like Landis, is an attorney, must decide how much cheating he and baseball can live with and what to do about it.

Manfred will have to rule soon on allegations that the Houston Astros, who have been to the World Series twice in the last three seasons, have made a mockery of the game with rampant dishonesty.

There is, to be sure, a certain level of cheating in virtually every sport, all supposedly excused by the crude axiom, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.

Stock car racing teams, where that expression reportedly originated, are notorious for modifying their cars extraordinarily in an attempt to get them to go faster.

And the reason football coaches have cards over their faces on a regular basis is to keep their opponents from reading their lips to learn what plays are being called.

In baseball, once a runner reaches second base, the opposing catcher often changes the signs he puts down between his legs for his pitcher, as it’s thought that said runner can easily see those signs and relay them to his teammate to tell them what pitch is coming and where.

While everyone tacitly acknowledges that this kind of subterfuge happens in the game usually with a wink and a nod, the Astros have been accused in a detailed article in the website The Athletic, of taking this kind of spying to another level.

The article, which uses the on-the-record confirmation of Mike Fiers, a former Houston pitcher, claims that the Astros used a center field camera trained on the catcher’s signals.

The camera feed was supposedly wired to a television monitor positioned near the home dugout in Houston. Players and officials would watch the feed during the game and try to decipher those signs.

When they thought they had things figured out, the offending Astros would relay the information by banging on a trash can when an off-speed pitch was coming.

Fiers was let go by the Astros after the 2017 season – one in which Houston claimed the World Series title. He made sure to tell teammates at his next stops in Detroit and Oakland about what he observed in Houston.

Hearing the whispers of misconduct, baseball has stepped up its detection techniques and enforcement as of the 2018 playoffs and continuing into the 2019 season.

But under his broad best interests of baseball powers, Manfred has the mandate to issue punishment even retroactively.

Landis banished eight players, most famously Shoeless Joe Jackson, from the sport a century ago, Manfred may need to do that and more to ensure that fans know baseball is as great an experience as it can be.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.