Phony Outrage Over Astros Scandal

I am sick of the self-righteous blathering about how the Houston Astros cheated.

Cody Bellinger, if you were suddenly traded to Houston, you’d gladly accept the Astros paycheck. And, hey, New York: When you quit regarding Jeffery Maier as a folk hero, then maybe I’ll have a little sympathy for all the tears you’re crying now. Rob Manfred, you apparently received complaints from more than a few teams for three years and didn’t do a thing about it. Furthermore, you stuck monitors showing the game in real time in major league clubhouses and never suspected that somebody might sneak a glance—or design an algorithm—to gain a competitive advantage. Spare me the outrage. Every day, in all walks of life, people are cheated in business and passed over for promotion. Their spouses are unfaithful, and the DMV treats them with disdain, and none of it’s fair. Somehow, most of them move on, and without a minimum salary of $555,000.

Of course, let’s admit that we love to be outraged these days, despite the fact that it’s not good for our blood pressure or our collective happiness. The Astros have given baseball’s talking heads a wonderful opportunity to be more outraged on the 2 o’clock show than the guy was on the 1 o’clock show. It’s all phony.

Clearly, other teams knew the Astros were stealing signals, but somehow weren’t smart enough to combat that? I bet I know how Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, and Nolan Ryan, for example, would have combated that. Had they heard that banging on the trash can, the next sound in the ballpark would have been the air quickly exiting the batter’s lungs after being drilled in the ribs. The players will always do a better job of policing the game than the suits in the Commissioner’s Office, and that includes the suits that used to wear uniforms.

Oh, I know, I’m supposed to be outraged because this form of cheating used technology. Modern cheating using modern technology to produce modern outrage!!! Yawn. There once was a Phillies infielder named Pierce Chiles who often coached third base. He had backup catcher, Morgan Murphy, stand beyond the centerfield fence and, using binoculars spy upon the opposing catcher’s signals, then buzz the third base coaching box through a buried telegraph wire that terminated under the foot of Chiles. That is, assuming that Chiles positioned himself correctly in the box. Blogger Jackie Howell detailed this forgotten episode in baseball history in her wonderful blog, The Baseball Bloggess recently. Chiles was using technology 120 years ago in 1900, but come to think of it, that telegraph wire thing is way more high-tech than banging on a trash can. (As a postscript, the Cincinnati Reds discovered the buzzer and dug it up. Just for funsies, ole Chiles buried a dummy buzzer in the first base coaches’ box, which the Reds also discovered and unearthed.)

Ah, for the good ole days in Houston.

What’s to stop a major league team from hiring a horde of interns to review the center field camera footage of every game played in a season, and then analyze what signal combinations indicated what pitch, in turn applying that to the new season? That might not be a perfect system, but it could possibly produce a trend since there are only so many signal combinations. Is that cheating since technology is involved or does it have to be in “real time?”

Was it cheating when New York’s A.L. team built Yankee Stadium in which the right field foul pole stood a mere 290’ from home plate in order to accommodate their new left-handed slugger, what’s his name? Something Ruth? Was it cheating when San Francisco’s grounds crew used to turn the baseline from first to second into a swamp to slow down Maury Wills? Can I get a little retro-outrage over those examples?

The current fauxrage is obscuring another consideration. Hitters know what’s coming in batting practice and still make outs four out of ten times. I keep seeing replays of Jose Altuve’s home run off Aroldis Chapman to capture the 2019 American League crown against the Yankees. Every time I see it, however, that slider is still eye-high and not doing much sliding. If Chapman throws a good slider, one starting knee-high and breaking down and away, the most Altuve might have hoped for was an opposite field single. Even if you know what’s coming, you still have to hit it, and I’m still not at all convinced that the diminutive second-sacker knew what was coming.

All you talking heads, please stop talking. The Astros cheated. They got caught. They tainted, if not ruined their own legacy. That’s not outrageous, that’s sad.

About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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4 Responses to Phony Outrage Over Astros Scandal

  1. Thank you for the shout out! 🙂 I’m so conflicted and sad about all this (and I may need to go back and re-read Astroball with a new perspective). I know that all teams try to get an edge, and you’re right about the whiners, but I also think that if this was serious enough to get the usually quiet Mike Trout and the almost always quiet Nick Markakis to speak up, then it’s worth the time to listen to them.

    The biggest failure in all this may not even be the cheaters themselves but the horrible way Manfred has handled it. It sort of reminds me of Selig’s years of whistling past the PED graveyard. Everyone was doing it. Everyone knew. And, no one did anything until the public found out.

    Nice post … although the mention of Jeffrey Maier made my heart hurt all over again.

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    • You’re very welcome! That was a great piece. As for Manfred, my buddy Al, who often comments here, hit the nail on the head: That guy would know which end of the bat to swing.

      Jeffrey Maier just makes me angry, but then the Birds won that next game and could have overcome that terrible non-call.

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  2. jal64 says:

    The sad part of all of this hooraw for me is the Astros didn’t need to cheat. They were/are a first rate team, competitive with any in either league. Players watch the other dugout and base coaches, base runners analyze the catcher, this is the sign stealing game that humans have played since using signs came on the scene. That said, I do feel this is an order of magnitude above vanilla sign stealing. I think that adding computers and artificial intelligence and especially lying about it is a leap too far. Maybe if the players agreed that everybody could do it … well ok then. I doubt one would get any pitchers on board.
    As you said, the batter still has to hit the ball and we all know that the success rate is not impressive even in batting practice or home run derby’s when there is no doubt involved. Now add in a 96 mph slider. If a batter knew that was coming he likely would not take the bat off his shoulder. Come to think about it, even knowing that he used it 98% of the time, still nobody could hit Mariano’s cutter.

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    • You are absolutely right–the Astros didn’t need to cheat, which makes the entire affair all the sadder. Another good point has been raised by the players now complaining: If you were on the Astros then, would you have called out your teammates or reported this? Human nature says that a very small percentage would have done so. Thanks for commenting!

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