This sign-stealing scandal, mixing high-tech with trash can banging, is like the novel coronavirus: it has unlimited potential for spreading. In this story we learn that Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez reached out to Alex Cora, the ringleader of the cheating when he was at Houston, to learn how that team might try to cheat the Nationals.
This is like the virus spreading among people who have had, uh, close contact with the source(s) of the virus. While I am ascribing no blame to Martinez-- one could certainly make the case that he acted in self-defense against the cheaters-- how did he know to ask Cora, the ringleader, about it? Was the Astros' cheating really common knowledge around the league?
The anonymous baseball executive quoted here suggests that "the whole industry" knew Houston was cheating "for 3 or 4 years." How long did the whole industry know it and stay quiet?
The novel coronavirus doesn't kill everyone it infects, but it kills some. The cheating virus is at this point operational in one host: the professional spectator sport called Major League Baseball. Will it kill, or permanently weaken, its host? The odds are one in two.
All of this needs investigation and sanctions, you would say, except that right now, a widening scandal is exactly what Major League Baseball does not need.
I cannot remember when this many significant new rules came into being simultaneously. This new flurry of rules, one of which coincides with the return of Shohei Otani as an iconic two-way player, must be partly seen as Baseball's reaction to having been caught cheating, in order to keep the interest and loyalty of the fans.
As far as speeding up the game, I wonder if anybody has asked the players whether they are all for this corporate speedup or whether they would rather be allowed to just play the game. Real fans don't mind a 3-hour game if it happens, nor a 5-hour 17-inning game (my record, at Fenway, lol).
Baseball doesn't need to move faster. It's a non-issue with the fans compared with the necessity that they be watching fair and equal competition.
Making each pitcher inserted face a minimum of three batters is another bad idea. The rule takes the game out of the hands of the manager. Managers dueling with batter and pitcher changes is an interesting, and (speaking as a traditionalist) crucial part of playing the game.
This is not a cosmetic adjustment. This is a radical change that will have as yet undetermined consequences in the future of baseball.
I am forced to say that I agree with Manfred that he can't punish the Astro players collectively because their parts in the cheating varied. But one of the effects that this scandal will definitely cause is a mindset among players and coaches-- maybe even more among managers and general managers-- that they are now being watched as potential wrong-doers, especially the Houston Astros.
This is a unique situation in the history of professional sports, far overshadowing the Black Sox and Steroids scandals. One reason it overshadows them is because, like the novel coronavirus, it has such potential to spread.
Houston has lost a GM and manager. The Yankees have lost a manager before he ever managed a game. The Red Sox have lost an immensely popular World-Series-winning manager.
Now fans in every major league city will carry the virus of suspicion. And there is always the possibility that other whistle-blowers will appear.
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