Not since the days of Shoeless Joe and the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919 has Major League Baseball seen anything close to the sign stealing drama which reached a fever pitch last week.
There are some differences however, the 1919 White Sox were accused of losing a World Series on purpose after accepting a bribe, while the 2017 Houston Astros have been found guilty of cheating to tip the scales in their favour en route to winning a title. Last week the league issued a report detailing their findings of a wide-ranging investigation into the Astros’ plot of using cameras and trash cans to relay to their players in the batter’s box what pitch was coming their way.
Relaying signs to teammates is nothing new. Watch enough baseball games and you’ll notice pitchers and catchers have a lot more meetings when an opposing player reaches second base for fear that runner is somehow informing the batter what pitch the catcher has signalled. For years teams have always argued over the ethics of this practice, but it’s always been within the rules of the game. Pitchers may show their displeasure with a fastball up and in, but the league itself offers no penalty for a team decoding pitches in such a manner. According to the report however, the Astros went well beyond the ‘unwritten rules’ and broke actual rules in using technology to aid in their ability to steal signs and then relay them back their hitters.
Among the many black eyes the sign stealing scandal has levied on America’s past time (and arguably Canada’s second favourite sport) is the message it sends to young players. Just as the sport was starting to repair its image from the black cloud of performance enhancing drugs, parents and coaches are once again left to explain to little leaguers that despite the success and personal gains the Astros and Boston Red Sox acquired through underhanded tactics, it’s not a standard for which to aspire. The Astros were hit with suspensions to their manager and general manager, a $5 million fine and loss of draft picks. The Red Sox still await their punishment, though they proactively fired their manager who was named as a key member of the 2017 sign stealing plot. Whether or not that’s a price a team would be willing to pay to win a World Series is up for debate. Hopefully the next generation of athletes have enough sense of pride instilled in them that they’d rather lose the right way than to ‘win’ the wrong way.
There was at least some good news to come out of baseball this week, as Canada’s own Larry Walker was finally elected to the Hall of Fame. With no stigma attached to his name other than the fact he played most of his career in the thin air of Colorado, hopefully more young athletes will follow his lead.