Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and players Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve addressed the media today for the first time since the team was caught cheating. Their apologies were insincere at best and Crane even denied that the cheating definitely helped. It's clear that those involved are fine with whatever punishment they did or not suffer. After all, they did win the World Series and you can't take that away. *Dramatic pause* Or can you?
MLB punished Houston by taking away some draft picks, fining the organization $5 million, and suspending their manager and general manager a year. Escaping official punishment are the players involved and anyone who profited off the ill-gotten rings.
The reverberations of the Astros' cheating will haunt Major League Baseball for the foreseeable future. Players who were involved are going to see an increased number of high and inside pitches throughout the season until MLB steps in. And when that happens, they will be forced to justify harsher penalties for players policing the game than the guys who cheated to win a World Series. Baseball people love policing the game and if MLB is unable to punish those involved going forward, then maybe they should look backward and strip the Astros of their World Series title.
Should the Houston Astros be the first professional sports team to ever vacate a championship? We see this all the the time in college sports. We know the Fab Five went to two Final Fours and USC won the 2004 BCS National Championship, but those schools aren't allowed to admit they happened. The memories are still there, but "officially" they are false memories.
We've also seen this in individual sports. Rosie Ruiz was striped of the Boston Marathon title for taking a bus. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles. Was stealing signs using electronic means as severe as using PEDs or public transportation?
If you want to stamp out this kind of cheating - which will only become easier as technology continues to improve - then what better way than to make the Houston Astros vacate the 2017 World Series? Major League Baseball can take their trophy and make them take down their banner. They can take back the $438,901.57 each player received for winning. Then seize their championship rings, melt them down and turn them into golden asterisks that will replace the dots on the lower case i's in the Minute Maid Park sign that adorns the stadium.
It will be hard for MLB to achieve those last few, but taking down that banner will at least be a gesture. And trying to take that money will at least make it more likely they can take the money next time. There's only one way to find out if a punishment that fits the crime actually seems like a punishment that prevents future crimes.
If they don't try to do something to those players complicit in Houston then there's nothing to stop players from doing something in the future. Why not cheat if you know all you need to do is be quiet for a couple months then offer a fauxpology?
What would most franchises sacrifice for a championship? If you asked the other 29 MLB team owners if they would fire a manager and general manager, give up four draft picks and $5 million for a World Series trophy, how many would turn that down? Having to trade Mookie Betts sounds like a harsher penalty for winning a World Series ring and Boston just did that voluntarily.
Houston doesn't seem overly contrite for pulling off one of the greatest sports scandals of all-time. Maybe MLB should do something before they have to deal with the next one.