I realize I’m a little late to this topic but that’s what happens when your team doesn’t make the post season for 20 years—you kind of lose touch with the sport.1 I’m also still pretty raw from the epic collapse the Mariners just had in Game 1 of the 2022 American League Division Series.
Bias acknowledged, our match-up with the Houston Astros surfaced vague memories of some sort of cheating scandal several years back. After reading up on it, and more saliently the essentially non-existent punishment, I’m pretty pissed.
A quick summary of the facts:
- During the 2017 and 2018 season, the Houston Astros used video cameras in the center field seats to spy on the signals catchers sent to pitchers and relay the information to batters.
- Sign stealing is a part of baseball, but it has to be done by players on the field. There’s no question this was both against the rules and unethical.
- It meets even the most strict definition of a conspiracy.
- Houston won the World Series in 2017—the season they cheated.
- Two managers were suspended for one year.
- The team was fined $5M and forfeited first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
- No players were punished.
Those punishments are weak sauce. I’m not a comprehensive scholar of sports malfeasance, but this is the most egregious example of cheating I can think of. The 1919 Black Sox intentionally losing to make money is both corrupt and illegal, but it ought be condemned in a different level of hell than cheating to win. Baseball’s steroid scandal was also not great, but neither did it violate rules (performance-enhancing drugs were banned by the league as a response to the scandal). The abuse was also so wide-spread it’s dubious to see how it could have given any particular team a competitive advantage. College recruiting violations are the next-worst thing I can think of, but the punishments can be brutal. For example, USC vacated two wins in a national championship season and all wins the following year, was banned for bowl games for two years, and was docked 30 scholarships.
Here’s what I would have done to the Astros:
- Strip their 2017 World Series title.
- Confiscate the revenue the club earned during the 2017 and 2018 playoffs.
- Issue a lifetime Hall of Fame ban to everyone on the team, players and coaches.
- Issue a lifetime ban from the league to the Astro’s manager and anyone I could prove helped concoct the scheme.
- If anyone committed an actual crime (fraud?) ask the cognizant District Attorney to bring criminal charges.
- For a few years, say five, ban the Astros from the playoffs and award them the last pick in every round of the draft.
The goals here are simple: ensure personal culpability for the individuals involved, financially punish the owner (both retrospectively and by reducing future earnings), and force the team into the competitive wilderness for long enough that they’ll have to completely rebuild when it’s time to contend again.
Even gloomy weather fans have their limits. ↩