Cheating has always been a part of baseball. But there is a difference between using human guile and using advanced technological methods. Major League Baseball has rightly been on a crusade to keep the latter out of the game because it has no place there. Punishment for hacking was severe. Punishment for Apple Watch use, relatively minor.
Punishment for the Houston Astros in the wake of their pitch-tipping scandal came down like a hailstorm of anvils. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch have been suspended for the entirety of the 2020 season. The team will pay a $5 million fine and lose their first- and second-round picks in each of the next two years. The 2017 World Series stands but will be forever tainted.
This thing grew from a snowball to an avalanche. Hinch was initially dismissive, suggesting publicly the allegations were unfounded and cowardly. MLB's report reveals he knew damn well what was going on, though he disapproves. The report paints Alex Cora as the non-player most responsible and points a finger at the Astros' insular and problematic culture.
Cora, who will also have to answer for implementing something similar with the Boston Red Sox, is in all kinds of hot water himself. It's hard to imagine he won't get a similar ban, if not a worse one, down the road.
And you know what? Good for MLB.
In an era where crime and punishment is largely bungled by leagues, they got this one right. Brazenly breaking the rules to win the sport's ultimate prize was a bridge too far. They knew it was wrong, not that it was just toeing the line. They took steps to destroy evidence and engaged in a cover-up.
It's some of the worst impropriety on the biggest stage. Though many Astros players found the practice more distracting than helpful, they kept doing it. Measuring its impact on a World Series, it's as serious as it gets.
A slap on the wrist would not have done the trick. Allowing something of this magnitude without a proportionate punishment would have opened Pandora's Box for all variety of cheating with video.
MLB did the smart and obvious thing. Seek to eradicate this behavior in baseball? Send a message with a meaningful body count. Enact a zero-tolerance policy. If you give baseball teams an inch, they'll take a mile.
And really, they could have gone further. Consider this:
The ripple effects cannot be undone. There's a reasonable argument that the title could be stripped, much like vacating wins. But the past is the past. Today, baseball took a giant leap forward into the world of technological leaps.
They were Liam Neeson, letting teams know that if they break the rules, they'll be discovered and badly hurt. Rob Manfred's special skill, it seems, is righting a wrong.
There's more stability in MLB's future today than there was yesterday. That's a damn good thing. Shame some people had to find out the hard way, but they were more than comfortable taking that risk.
Sometimes in baseball you just get caught looking.