The fallout of Houston’s cheating scandal grows worse by the day, and Rob Manfred seems powerless to stop it.
Last month, Manfred and league investigators found the Houston Astros guilty of a cheating scandal involving stealing the catcher’s signs through a camera and relaying them live to the person at bat. This discovery caused waves across the baseball community and irreversibly damaged baseball and its integrity.
In response to this scandal, a public cry for punishment was raised against the Astros. MLB responded by suspending Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for a year, as well as stripping them of their first- and second-round draft picks for 2020 and 2021. Additionally, they fined the Astros $5 million, the maximum amount allowed by the MLB constitution. The Astros immediately responded to these punishments with the firing of Hinch and Luhnow.
While these punishments were historic for baseball, many fans and players still criticize the punishments as a slap on the wrist. No players involved received any kind of punishment, and no World Series titles won by cheating were revoked.
“I understand when people say the players should’ve been punished. I understand why they feel that way,” Commissioner Manfred said about the lack of player punishment. “If I was in a world where I could’ve found all the facts without granting immunity, I would’ve done that.”
In his statement to NBC Sports, Manfred admitted that he was unable to piece together a sound investigation without granting cheating players immunity to hear their stories. However, the major reason Manfred did not dole out suspensions was to avoid a conflict with the MLBPA.
“We’re talking to the MLBPA about . . . what should be done about these sorts of issues on a go-forward basis, and exactly how we should deal with players in these types of situations, so yes, I could envision it being different in the future,” Manfred said in his statement.
So, to summarize: Manfred is unwilling to punish players out of fear of MLBPA retaliation. He is unwilling to rescind the World Series titles because “[To] ask for the trophy back I don’t think makes that much of a difference.” Manfred was been able to fine the Astros $5 million but this sum pales to the record player bonuses that were earned by the cheating Astros players in 2017.
However, if you were worried that the cheating players got off scot-free, Manfred had another comment.
“I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think that they’re skipping down the road into spring training happy, that’s just a mischaracterization of where we are,” Manfred said.
The actions taken by the commissioner to address this major scandal were nothing other than weak. Houston’s sign-stealing was reportedly an open secret around the league for years, a secret that MLB only took seriously after sports journalists and a whistleblower brought the scandal to public attention. After exposing the cheating, Manfred failed to punish the players or the organization in any meaningful way, creating the dangerous precedent that cheating is okay as long as you can stomach it.
However, Manfred’s handling of the sign-stealing scandal has not been the only thing drawing criticism as of late. In the heat of the Astros’ scandal, Manfred decided to propose a new playoff format to baseball, to almost universal dislike.
This new proposal would allow seven teams in each league to reach the postseason, with the division winners being able to pick their wildcard opponent, in game show-like fashion.
Trevor Bauer, an outspoken pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, responded to this proposal by calling out Manfred on Twitter.
“[Manfred], your proposal is absurd for too many reasons to type on Twitter and proves you have absolutely no clue about baseball. You’re a joke,” Bauer posted.
Didi Gregorius, Phillies’ shortstop, chimed in as well, remarking on Twitter, “Why are we changing this loveable sport so much?”
In addition to being disliked by the players, the fans of baseball also took time to voice their dislike. Major complaints stemmed from the game show-style opponent selection, which felt out of style with every other sport, and the expansion of more teams into the postseason. With 162 games a season, adding more teams into the postseason would make a great deal of regular season games meaningless.
Finally, to top-off Manfred’s resume of mis-management, this past year MLB proposed a plan to cut 42 minor league teams, among them the Daytona Tortugas, home of the park where Jackie Robinson first took the field as a professional player. The teams and communities affected have sworn to fight the proposition, even spawning a letter from 106 congresspeople to protest the matter.
Calling for someone to be fired is always extreme, but in this case players and fans believe that Manfred has taken actions against baseball’s interest at every turn. A league rampant with cheating threatens to turn away a whole new generation of baseball fans, of whom there is already a recession. Changing the baseball tradition can be acceptable at times, but devaluing the regular season with an expanded playoff pool and destroying minor league teams across the country is a good way to alienate your existing fanbase. Baseball is in a modern decline and it will take the strong, decisive actions of a good commissioner to breathe new life into it. It remains to be seen if Rob Manfred is up for the job.
Ben Field is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.