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MANFRED’S LEGACY

MANFRED’S LEGACY

The signs stealing scandal involving the 2017 Houston Astros will be a hot topic for many more weeks/months to come. Here's what our very own Carl Lemelin had to say about it!

It seems inevitable. Every baseball commissioner will have a landmark issue to deal with
eventually. For Bud Selig, it was the steroid era and market inequalities. Kenesaw
Mountain Landis, first ever commish, had the infamous Black Sox scandal to tackle.


Current MLB boss Rob Manfred may have just created a pivotal precedent with his
decisive and swift reaction to the recent Houston Astros sign stealing revelation and
subsequent investigation. Blame was distributed equally to every level of the guilty
organization. The Astros were fined $5 million, the maximum allowed by the MLB
constitution, and forced to forfeit their first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and
2021. In addition, GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were each suspended for the
entire 2020 season, including the playoffs.


That left little other option but to fire the two very well regarded figures of a very
successful Astros run in recent years. Even though they weren’t directly involved in
initiating the cheating project, they are guilty of extreme negligence at the very least.


And more may be coming, as then bench coach Alex Cora and player Carlos Beltran
were also proven to be among the leading proponents of the ruse. Both have been fired
from their managerial positions. Beltran, recently hired by the Mets, even loses the
privilege of embarking on a new career.


The message is loud and clear and, may I add, to be applauded: using modern
technology to gain a live competitive advantage will not be tolerated.


WHERE TO DRAW THE LINE?


It’s been called the sign stealing scandal by just about every media outlet, but sign
stealing has been a part of baseball ever since catchers have flashed fingers at their
pitchers and third base coaches have performed their best impressions of French
mimes. It isn’t even forbidden in the rulebook.


Trying to figure out sign sequences from the dugout or as a runner on second base has
always been frowned upon by opponents, but recognized by observers as clever
gamesmanship, just another way to prove one’s full involvement in the effort to get the
win.


So if sign stealing isn’t cheating, why are the Astros considered cheaters at all?


Because of the way it was done. Players’ eyes and sense of observation on the field are
just another tool they can use to help their team win. But Houston’s scheme relied
solely on technologically driven data gathering that basically insured their hitters would
know which pitch was coming every time they came to the plate at home.

 

Using computers and algorithms to help with advanced scouting, preparing game plans
is now common practice in every sport. But applying that digitally acquired knowledge
LIVE to affect in-game play (rumours now have Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman even
wearing wired buzzers concealed under their uniform), using LIVE feeds on available
monitors? That is where the line needed to be drawn and I’m so glad Manfred did it
unequivocally!


THE WHISTLEBLOWER


In a recent interview, Trevor Bauer stated that rumors were rampant within MLB circles
that the Astros were cheaters. Nobody dared to come forward publicly with their
suspicions, because there wasn’t sufficient proof of any wrong doing. After all, Bauer
added, the Houston organization already had a reputation for their high level of
sophistication in terms of advanced scouting.


The garbage-banging was heard by opposing players and raised doubts, but the smoking
gun only came when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, now a divisional opponent, had
had enough of being on the receiving end of the plot and finally revealed it to the world
during an interview.


Now Fiers is getting the whistleblower treatment. That’s the inevitable and unfounded
backlash that all red-flag lifters get from insiders within their company, or even the
public for… TELLING THE TRUTH!


Apparently, Fiers broke the code: the fact that he revealed a locker room secret makes
him an untrustworthy teammate.


Really? 2020 and we’re still allowing honest people to be crucified on public forums
for… LISTENING TO THEIR CONSCIENCE?


Has anyone seen the movie Edward Snowden? Who in their right mind was on Big
Brother’s side while watching that flic?


Breaking the law (or in the present case, the rules) is the cause of the scandal, not
exposing it for what it is. Leave Mike Fiers alone! He should be praised for his actions,
not get the stink eye from his peers.

*Note: A little change of plans with this blog. We just had to talk about this important
development. NL Resolutions for all 15 teams in two weeks.

Tell us what you think of the whole sign stealing issue. It brings up so many questions
about where gamesmanship ends, and cheating starts. We want to read your takes!

Comments

  1. Pete Pete

    The 4 kids who won’t be drafted by MLB clubs since the Astros lost 4 picks. Obviously not first or second round talent, but the bottom 4 overall picks. $5M we agreed is nothing to the Astros, but $50k or whatever those kids would have signed for is a big deal to them. They’re generally picks as favors to GM’s but I know of one final pick of the MLB draft who ended up being a hall of fame player!

  2. Carl Lemelin Carl Lemelin

    Thanks for the compliments and the great discussion Pete. It is a fascinating topic that goes to the core of our belief in fair competition as fans of this great game! As for the big losers, that would be everybody who believes in competing within the rules and good sportsmanship, but I am curious what your answer might be... The Dodgers maybe?

  3. Pete Pete

    That's fair, Carl. Bauer is outspoken but never provided facts, so I can respect your stance. I think he's also removed those from his Twitter, but as we know everything still lives on the Internet! It's too bad the Astros did what they did, because they were likable. The franchise that suffered in the basement of the standings for the better part of the last 15 years emerging with a young core that can threaten the deep pocket teams was a good news story. Even as a Sox fan that was intriguing. I'm still not too upset at the players as they were victims of their environment, but as the GM of another team I'd be cautious of these player's value as free agents. Hinch just had an interview to address the matter and did absolutely nothing to take accountability. He went as far as saying he deserved to take the fall for it because he was aware that it was happening and as the face of the organization he understands that he had to pay the ultimate price. The owner should be saying that, not the club manager. And even if the owner is not aware, ignorance doesn't mean innocence. It's your team, the owner had to pay the ultimate price. I love how the game normally manages itself when it comes to addressing questionable behavior (yes, I'm talking about beaning people), but I'm not sure that would be relevant here. It was the perfect plan, the franchise wins a championship and the players raise their market value. Let's make America watch and hope, but we control the narrative thanks to some technology and a trash can from Home Depot. By the time it comes out, the franchise will be worth a few hundred million dollars more and we'll have more hundreds of thousands of Alutve, Bregman, Correa and Verlander jerseys. Obviously they had to consider the risk. It was only a matter of time that someone leaves via free agency or the modern era Canseco retires and writes a book because they need the money, but winning a championship and the revenue that brought in during their playoff run was worth more than the (inevitable) consequences. I used to think that the lifetime ban of Pete Rose was deserved, but after this one-up, I believe he should be in the Hall now. It's crazy how it takes something even worse to happen to think that the last bad thing really wasn't a big deal. I'll wrap this up by saying that with all this talk of historic punishment, and although this was never before seen, I was expecting more. I was thinking force the team sale à la Clippers and ban the bureaucrats involved for life like they did with the Cards scout. That's harsh and would send a message. The NBA couldn't tolerate a racist owner but MLB says it's OK to change the outcome of the championship. You hurt the credibility of the sport, one that is dependent on fans following it and to turn the sport into a circus is a risk to several billions of dollars. Great topic Carl, looking forward the NL outlook and for Spring Training to finally start!

  4. Carl Lemelin Carl Lemelin

    Hi Pete, I read up on the Astros' alleged doctoring of baseballs and it seems that it is far from a proven fact at this point. I certainly haven't found anything about an actual recipe for the substance used, as you mentioned. I realize that knowing what we know now, it's not that much of a stretch to believe these suspicions Bauer has, but until more actual proof comes to light, I'll reserve judgement on this one...

  5. Pete Pete

    Wait, so melting Coke, pine tar and firm grip together is considered advanced analytics? Bauer has been going back and forth with the Astros pitchers over a separate cheating accusation.

  6. Carl Lemelin Carl Lemelin

    Yeah, that's what I thought you were referring to concerning Bauer's comments. I had heard about that too, but that was more to illustrate the Astros' penchant towards using more advanced analytics compared to other teams within their player development. That's not cheating, just better foresight than the competition. I think every team should make full use of all the new tools available to them to help their players improve their performance, that's just healthy, honest competition!

  7. Pete Pete

    Agree with you Carl. A precedent has been set though if you want harsh punishment for non-players. Remember the Cardinals scout who got caught hacking the Astros? What happened to him? This is far worse as it directly impacted the outcome of the World Series.
    Regarding Bauer’s comments, check out his recent Twitter posts where he’s noticing spin rate on Astros pitchers has gone up significantly for pitchers who signed there as FA’s.

  8. Carl Lemelin Carl Lemelin

    Hi Pete,

    I agree with you that the sanctions are relatively light from an organizational stand point. But at least MLB's statement is clear. Anyone caught cheating within the employee ranks will be punished harshly and their reputation forever tarnished. If Astros' ownership was aware or even initiated the cheating, that alone will prohibit any further organization from even suggesting their employees should cheat to get ahead. So I'm OK with it, if not completely satisfied. Manfred did as much as he could, I believe.
    As for Bauer's comments, I'm not aware of the comments on spin rate, but I don't have a problem with players and coaches using advanced stats to scout opponents. Every team must use the available data to gain an edge, that's not cheating.

  9. Pete Pete

    Not cool. Not cool by the Astros oragnization, the coaches and players. And they want us to believe that they only cheated in 2017, that they have been playing fair ever since? I don't think the organization received enough of a punishment and to distance themselves from their coaches so quickly after the judgment shows their complete lack of support and accountability as an organization.
    You can't tell me the Astros ownership had no idea this was going on. $5M fine and 4 picks is nothing really. I know it's the maximum allowable fine, but what does $5M get you in baseball if you want to put its value into perspective? What's $5M going to do to a $1.8B franchise? What's the 32nd, 64th picks of 2020 and 2021 going to amount to? Can't and won't be quantified for 5-7 years at a minimum. Will it make a dent to the organization? We'd be fools to think it will.
    The players can't be touched, the Players Union protects them too much so the coaches were made examples of. Was firing all those coaches the right thing to do? Cora may have been the mastermind behind it, but what was the culture in Houston vs Boston? Did Houston ownership ever release a statement that they had no clue this was going on and it goes against their values, etc? So then, where did this all start? Did ownership's increasing pressure to win now and win at all costs force certain individuals to get creative?
    I remember growing up and playing baseball in Ottawa and surrounding areas, some teams would just communicate in a different language, which is known to be a culturally diverse city and it's fine, but the tone and timing of some of it was suspicious at best. Our catcher would set up outside and some word was being yelled. Coincidentally after our coach would call it out, it would stop or they'd have to find a different way and at the same time, we had to adjust our signs. I don't consider that gamemanship because it's too low-effort but I do say for sure that as a coach and catcher, you can't be negligent and lazy either. If a pitcher is tipping his pitches, are you supposed to erase that from your brain if you notice that he does something particular every time he throws the curve? As a coach is it forbidden to tell your team to shift for this batter because that's his tendency?
    Planting a camera in center field and relaying the sign to someone next to the dugout who's smashing a garbage can is not on the same level and not cool. Look at Altuve's playoff stats at home vs on the road, it's making a mockery of the game. If I'm in the same free agency class as Altuve, am I wondering how much food this guy took off my plate because half the time, he knew what pitch was coming?
    Don't forget, Trevor Bauer also went after what their pitchers are doing, talking about spin rate of their pitches. Will we ever be able to trust the Houston Astros again? Does MLB need to do what the NBA did with the Clippers and force a sale? The more I think about it, the less it sounds crazy.

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