Astros' Unprecedented Cheating Deserves An Unprecedented Punishment
Every day, as more and more allegations of the Houston Astros' sign-stealing are uncovered and the true scale of the scandal is revealed, it's clear we may be dealing with an event unprecedented in baseball history.
If what we're reading is true, then this is greater than simply one player pumping his own body full of chemicals to enhance his own performance. This is a coordinated, multi-year effort by a team to subvert the rules of baseball using technology - that is, the actual, written rules of the game, not those phony unwritten rules we hear so much about, like "don't flip your bat" and whatnot.
In three successive years, the Astros' subterfuge contributed (at least somewhat) to the following season results: World Series win in 2017, within one win of an AL pennant in 2018, and within one win of another World Series win this year.
In a matter of weeks, a game and its premier event have been tainted.
This has not been a great month for the team anyway, and losing the World Series at home was the least of it. Just after the Astros beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, the team took a public relations beating after assistant general manager Brandon Taubman's post-pennant-winning outburst to a group of female reporters. The team eventually fired Taubman, but the damage had already been done.
Simply fining the Astros would be less than a slap on the wrist. There is a team culture problem in Houston, and a fine, no matter how steep, will not be enough to make it go away.
So what can MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred reasonably do here?
Aside from stripping the Astros of draft picks - as the commissioner warned could happen in 2017 should any club commit "future violations of this type" - Manfred could also take the Kenesaw Mountain Landis approach and ban everyone involved for life, or at least for a long time. This would theoretically include Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. Regardless of their roles (or lack thereof) in the sign-stealing, they were captaining the ship and they could easily have put a stop to it. The fact that the cheating continued for at least three seasons is a sign of gross managerial oversight at best.
If MLB's investigation were to uncover even more scandalous evidence, Manfred could go for a punishment that we dare not think about - the NCAA-style postseason ban, most famously applied in this decade with Ohio State University after 2011's "Tattoogate".
Obviously, such a postseason ban has never been implemented in Major League Baseball before, and the mere implications of it are staggering. It would basically result in the banned team walking the field as "zombies", playing out the 162-game regular season with no end goal in sight other than paychecks. No player with the power to leave would decline to use that right to leave for another ball club, giving them a shell of their former roster.
Then again, considering the "extra help" the Astros may have received to reach the heights of baseball excellence, some might consider it just desserts.