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Tipsheet: Unlike Selig and Goodell, Manfred demands competitive integrity

Tipsheet: Unlike Selig and Goodell, Manfred demands competitive integrity

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Cincinnati Opening Day

FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2019 file photo, Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball, speaks during a news conference at owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. Major League Baseball and Reds are this season commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, who pioneered professional baseball. Manfred will be grand marshal Thursday, March 28 of the 100th Findlay Market Opening Day Parade in Cincinnati. The colorful parade featuring floats, marching bands and celebrities will begin winding through the city. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

The Houston Astros are the ugly tip of baseball’s technology-aided cheating iceberg.

The Boston Red Sox are exposed as well. There are doubtlessly other guilty clubs, too, teams hoping that nobody will be exposing their own culpability.

This is like the Steroids Era of baseball, except that baseball commissioner Rob Manfred does not want it to go on and on.

He dropped a bomb on the Houston Astros for their sign-stealing scandal, then Astros owner Jim Crane fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. The Red Sox should feel similar pain soon.

Manfred is not Bud Selig, looking the other way as baseball benefited from all of that muscle-bound slugging.

He is not NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, willing to gloss over cheating scandals and then destroy the evidence -- as Goodell did with allegations against the New England Patriots.

Manfred actually has the integrity his position demands. He made that abundantly clear by suspending Luhnow and Hinch and docking the Astros their top two picks in the next two drafts.

Then Crane, proving he does not want to be known as baseball’s Robert Kraft, cashiered Luhnow and Hiinch.

Our National Pastime was put on notice in a big, big way.

Here is what folks are writing about this:

Bob Nightengale, USA Today: “It’s grossly naive to think the Astros are the only team who cheated, using video monitors to illegally steal signs, but they were the most blatant violators, showing the most disdain, with an utter arrogance and aloofness. And on Monday, in one of the darkest days of the sport’s history, commissioner Rob Manfred made sure their legacy will forever be tarnished. Manfred imposed the most severe penalties against a team since the Chicago Black Sox scandal in 1919 when players threw the World Series, trying to desperately protect the game’s credibility after this latest scandal smears the sport. This isn’t the NCAA where titles can be vacated. The Astros will still keep their 2017 World Series and American League pennant. But can you imagine the awkwardness when the Astros hoist the AL flag at Minute Maid Park on opening day? MLB can only be grateful that the Astros didn’t win their second World Series title in three years, making their era of greatness a complete fraud. Luhnow and Hinch were already publicly shamed with their one-year suspensions, but Astros owner Jim Crane put their careers in jeopardy by firing them an hour later.”

David Schoenfield, ESPN.com: “To steal from the NCAA, you can call it a loss of institutional control, and Luhnow, Hinch and the organization had to pay a severe penalty -- and Manfred certainly handed one down. For those arguing that using technology to steal signs is going on throughout the sport and that the Astros don't deserve to be punished for what everyone else also might be doing, I disagree. The Astros got caught and got caught doing it in a year they won the World Series. This is exactly how you tell an entire sport to knock it off. You go after the big boys and send a strong message that this will not be tolerated. It's time for baseball to return to a competition between players -- not a competition between technology.” 

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports: “Whether the Astros were chronically culpable or chronically suspicious, their reputation now seems secure. It is unlikely the Astros were alone in creating a system or two that violated league rules. Before the league had concluded its investigation into the Astros, it had launched a new investigation into the Red Sox for similar — if not so brazen — tactics in 2018 and 2019. The Astros were exposed by a former employee, investigated and punished. That came on Luhnow’s watch, in Hinch’s dugout, from a roster of players who must now defend the honesty of the World Series rings they wear, of the AL West titles they celebrated. They may tell their stories about how hard they worked, how focused they were, how committed they were to the cause and each other. How they once earned that trophy and the banners that fly at Minute Maid Park. The sad part is, they probably were the better baseball team in all those games, in all those ballparks in all those Octobers, because they had the better players. Nobody else doubted it.”

Tom Verducci, SI.com: “In the kind of informational archaeology reminiscent of The Steroid Era, baseball is learning what happens when ‘gaining an edge’ pushes into new frontiers. Two sources familiar with the investigation, which lasted three months and included more than 70,000 e-mails and 60 interviews, said various Astros personnel told MLB investigators about eight other teams who used technology to steal signs in 2017 or 2018–such was the culture of the time. Only one of those teams, the Boston Red Sox, is under a known investigation as a result of information baseball found credible. Boston now understands the scope of possible penalties, including to Alex Cora, its manager. Cora is linked to both teams, as bench coach for the 2017 Astros and manager of the 2018 Red Sox. Both teams won the World Series. According to MLB's report, Cora used the Astros dugout phone connected to the replay room to obtain information on opponents' signs early in the 2017 season.”

Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic: “As in the Steroid Era — another period in baseball history in which broad rules and lax enforcement created a lawless environment — people at every level of the sport bear responsibility for this mess. The penalties administered by Manfred, which included the Astros’ forfeiture of their first- and second-round picks in 2020 and ’21 and the maximum $5 million fine allowed by the MLB constitution, will serve as a powerful deterrent to anyone who considers engaging in illegal sign stealing in the future. But baseball still must figure out exactly how to best prevent such violations from occurring again, whether it’s by denying players access to video during games, introducing new technology to protect the relaying of signs from catcher to pitcher or developing some other innovative strategy. And everyone involved needs to acknowledge the role they played in allowing the sport to grow so out of control.”

Bill Baer, NBCSports.com: “It is worth taking a minute to think about all of the people negatively impacted by the Astros’ cheating as well . . . the Astros went 8-1 and hit .273 at home during the 2017 postseason as opposed to 3-6 with a .208 average on the road. One of the players negatively impacted, for example, was Clayton Kershaw. He held the Astros to one run while striking out 11 batters over seven innings in Los Angeles in Game 1 of the World Series, but the Astros lit him up to the tune of six runs over 4 2/3 innings in Game 5 in Houston. It’s impossible to say if that would have happened anyway without cheating, but nevertheless, the poor performance added to Kershaw’s infamous “can’t perform in the postseason” narrative. Close Kenley Jensen gave up runs in back-to-back outings in Houston in Games 4 and 5 of the World Series. Manager Dave Roberts’ decision-making was heavily criticized, which hurt his reputation and that might never have come up if the Astros hadn’t broken the rules. Furthermore, the Astros advanced through the postseason at the expense of other teams and their players, which meant those players might have unjustly lost out on bigger postseason bonuses. Their stats were negatively impacted if they played against the Astros, and they lost out on opportunities to bolster their stats if they didn’t get to advance in the playoffs, which all has a factor in negotiating higher pay via arbitration and free agency. The teams the Astros knocked out in the postseason lost a bit of franchise value from not having the prestige of having played in or possibly won a World Series, or at least the ALCS. There is no way to accurately value all of the pluses and minuses, but it is safe to say that the Astros’ success came very much at the expense of others. It was not a victimless crime.”

MEGAPHONE

“If the Dodgers are planning a 2017 World Series parade, I would love to join! So if that is in the works, can someone make a Yu Garbage jersey for me?”

• Former Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish, reacting to the Astros punishment.


Gordo's Quick Hits on STL sports

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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