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Baseball Whiffs On Punishing Cheating Astros

Kris Robinson via Flickr

If you want to know how far baseball is off its moorings, consider this: Pete Rose is claiming the high moral ground.

Yes, that Pete Rose, the guy who copped to, sort of, betting on baseball, thus earning a lifetime ban from the sport, as well as its theoretical scorn and enmity, is using the cheating scandal that has enveloped the national pastime to try to worm his way back into its good graces.

In a 20-page petition submitted to Commissioner Rob Manfred last week, Rose argued that Manfred’s failure to punish Houston Astros players for their participation in an ongoing scheme to tip off teammates about impending pitches is unfair to him.

By Rose’s reckoning, baseball should have hammered the Astros. Because it didn’t, his 30-year sentence, which continues, is excessive.

Leaving aside the notion that Rose’s argument as it pertains to his misdeeds is incongruous, his point that Manfred let the Astros players skate is a valid one.

To recap, a baseball investigation, fueled, in part by the accounts of former Houston pitcher Mike Fires, found that the Astros used video equipment to see the signs put down by opposing catchers to pitchers to call pitches.

The Astros, who won the 2017 World Series, then signaled their batters with the information by banging trash cans. But that wasn’t enough.

The Wall Street Journal reported that members of the team’s front office used a Microsoft Excel-based application nicknamed “Codebreaker” to decode the signs of the opposing catchers.

For that high- and low-tech treachery, Manfred threw the book at the Houston organization, fining it $5 million – the maximum under baseball rules -- and stripping it of first-round draft choices.

Manfred then suspended general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year. Astros owner Jim Crane then immediately fired the pair.

The tentacles of the Astros’ chicanery extended beyond their own clubhouse. Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach during the time the cheating took place, was fired as Boston’s manager, supposedly for bringing a form of the system to the Red Sox during their 2018 World Series championship season.

And Carlos Beltran, a Houston player in 2017, was fired as New York Mets manager before he even got to manage a game, presumably because of his involvement in the scandal.

But Beltran was the only player cited in Manfred’s report and the firings of Luhnow, Hinch, Cora and Beltran were all undertaken by their respective clubs, not by baseball.

Shockingly, not a single Houston player was punished by Manfred, and the team will be allowed to keep their World Series banner, despite clear evidence that the cheating went on during their championship run.

Indeed, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost in successive years to the Astros and the Red Sox, are left to wonder if they were literally robbed of two chances to win a title.

No less a revered figure than Hank Aaron, the real home run king, said the Astros players who were involved should be banned for life – the same punishment Pete Rose got.

That might be a bit excessive, but the apparent slap on the wrist they’re getting from Manfred sends the message that baseball is ceding that moral high ground.  

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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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.