Houston Astros: the most damaging aspect

Message: Imagine turning up to your job for three years with the aim of being promoted to the top job.

And then imagine that during that three-year period, you were overlooked for the top job because a colleague – someone you respected – had a better test result than you.

And now imagine finding out that your colleague had cheated in their test in order to get that job.

That’s the story of every MLB team and the Houston Astros.

The scandal that’s rocked baseball has created infinitely more questions than the insincere Astros apologies answered. The main question is: What is cheating in baseball?

The consensus view seems to be that using technology in-game to affect the outcome of a game is cheating.

So, with knowledge of the Astros actions during the 2017 World Series winning season being classified as cheating, it leaves the following unanswered questions:

How does the buzzer/trashcan scandal get viewed in 50 years time? Do people laugh about it in the same way that they laugh at the thought of pitchers using vaseline on balls, or team staff sneaking around stadiums to steal signs?

What would the Astros have to do to ensure that this potential three-year period of cheating isn’t the first thing fans think of when they hear the name “Houston Astros”? Would three consecutive titles be sufficient? Maybe if it was confirmed that the wins were clean…

What about the Astros’ players? Are their careers effectively over once they leave the franchise? Will every description of a future achievement always be preceded with “cheater”?

Are the Astros pantomime villains or real villains? I’m erring on the side of real because their actions have had very real effects. Effects such as Mike Bolsinger believing his MLB career was cut short because of a performance against the Astros, or Aaron Judge being beaten out for the MVP trophy and the subsequent increase in endorsements that would surely have come his way. This isn’t just about a team winning a pendant; this is about players losing opportunities.

How will other teams and players react to the Astros during the 2020-21 season? Can we expect Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman to be pinged with balls every time they step to the plate? Are the Astros literally going to have to fight in every single game? I’m not saying those actions, if they happen, are right because I’m not naive enough to think the Astros were the only team who have crossed the line when it comes to gaining an advantage. But as of the time of writing, Houston are the only team in the spotlight and as they have the most measurable success, it’s right that reactions are focused on them.

And as we’re concentrating solely on the Houston Astros; the press conference answers from Crane and players were laughable at best. Cheating may be a grey area in baseball but lying is black and white.

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If they truly didn’t use an electronic buzzer system to gain an advantage, surely the answer to give when asked the question is “No, we didn’t use a buzzer system”. It seems unfathomable to me that an elite athlete who has trained their entire life, would give anything other than a definite answer absolving them of all blame.

Or are the Astros (already licking their wounds from the admission that the trash can communication was real), feeling that any rebuttal to the buzzer-suggestion wouldn’t be believed?

One winner from everything that is being revealed, is Major League Baseball. The sport is on every sports news channel, it’s the feature of every talking heads section and I am confident that every attendance and TV viewership will increase with the visit of the Astros during the upcoming season.

There’s a theory that even negative publicity is a positive because it gets more eyeballs on the product. But the key to converting the additional exposure into longer-term income, is to ensure that the sport is stronger following the scandal. And right now, it definitely doesn’t look to be headed that way.

A paltry fine and removal of draft picks is all Commissioner Manfred has seen fit to currently punish the Astros with. And if I owned an MLB team, I’d see that as a green light to continue cheating.

And none of these questions – not a single one – even touches on arguably the most important topic: The fans.

As fans, how can we trust the league and expect games to be contested fairly?

If fans don’t see a punishment that fits the crime – and I appreciate the buzzer scandal hasn’t been proven yet – why should we believe the outcomes of games won’t ever be tainted again?

And that might be the most damaging aspect of this scandal.

[Editor’s note: Keith wrote this article weeks before the virus outbreak and the subsequent cancellation of spring training games/delay of the start of the season. The questions he raises are still valid]

Keith Martin is a guest writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @KeithMProperty

Make sure you subscribe to the Bat Flips and Nerds podcasts and follow us on Twitter @BatFlips_Nerds. News, views and interviews, all with a British twist.

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