On the verge of spring training, MLB's commissioner sends a tough message.
Cheating, cutting corners, pulling the wool over an opponent’s eyes is a constant temptation in life. But it’s not without risk.
That’s why it’s extra important to remember the first rule of cheating — don’t get caught.
Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros, winners of the 2017 World Series, did a good job — for a while — of getting away with their use of camera equipment to determine what pitches opposing hurlers were throwing. But a former member of the team, onetime Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, let the cat out of the bag last year when he told reporters from The Athletic about how players on the team stole signs and then transmitted the information to their hitters.
This week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made it clear he will hold responsible executives on teams caught cheating.
Manfred fined the Astros $5 million — the maximum allowable — ordered that the Astros forfeit four high-round draft choices and suspended for one year general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.
Team owner Jim Crane — who was shocked to learn of the misconduct — then fired both men.
The Boston Red Sox followed up on the Astros’ dismissals with one of their own, separating themselves from two-year manager Alex Cora. Then a bench coach with the Astros, Cora oversaw the sign-stealing operation there and, allegedly, later introduced the program with the Red Sox.
Cora’s Red Sox machinations are the subject of a separate investigation. Finally, Mets manager Carlos Beltran — one of the Astros’ ringleaders — stepped down before his first season leading the team because of the scandal.
In handing down these tough penalties, Manfred concluded that, based on the evidence, the sign-stealing operation was, “with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed.”
Evidence indicated GM Luhnow was unaware of the situation. It also showed that Hinch was aware of it but did little to stop it with the exception of smashing a couple of television monitors to send his players a message they did not apparently get.
Why so hard on managers and easy on players?
Manfred concluded that executives fearful of negative career repercussions will be emboldened to seriously discourage this kind of misconduct.
At the same time, he said it would be impossible to determine which players did what.
Besides, players have union protection while Manfred has a free hand dealing with team executives and owners.
Sign stealing has been going on since the game was first played, and it’s legal as long as the stealers using their powers of personal observation.
Using electronic equipment, like TV cameras and smart watches, is out of bounds, per the commissioner’s edicts.
He sees the cheating as a threat to the integrity of the game, what is supposed to be pure and honest on-field competition between opposing teams.
Manfred certainly has a point. Even more clearly, he, as commissioner, has the power to enforce the rules over the teams.
Team players, managers and executives may not see the light, but deterrence can be effective as long as they fear the heat.
Luhnow, Hinch and Cora certainly are feeling the heat, paying a high price for a cheating program that players eventually abandoned because they felt it was both unproductive and risky.
Remember the old bromide parents told their children that cheaters never win and winners never cheat? It’s not true. Cheaters win a lot. That’s why they cheat. So do winners. That’s why they cheat.
But sometimes they do get caught and pay the price, in this case a high price for violating the cardinal rule of cheating.