I don’t usually spend time responding to my “fans” who write letters to the editor, because if I did, I would not have the timr to write a regular column. However, due to feedback from others who saw T.F. from Great Neck’s letter to the editor, I will give a short response. If T.F. thought that their letter was proper in tone and content, why did they hide behind their initials? Sorry, T.F. I ain’t going anywhere. The name of this paper is the Queens Jewish Link. It is not the Queens Jewish Republican Link or the Queens Jewish Trump Link. If other Jewish papers want to be nothing more than mouthpieces for Trump, that is their choice. However, it does not mean that it is right. Also, assuming, as T.F. claims, that a majority of the readers are Trump supporters, that does not preclude someone expressing a different opinion. That is the problem with this country. People just want to read newspapers or listen to other media outlets which contain positions that they agree with instead of hearing - even occasionally - from the other side.
Now back to my regularly scheduled article.
It used to be that this time of the year baseball fans would be able to escape the craziness of the real world and get excited about the beginning of spring training. Not this year.
Mark Fiers, a member of the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros and now a member of the Oakland Athletics, told a reporter in November 2019 that in 2017 and 2018, the team used a center field camera to steal signs. This led to an investigation by the commissioner of baseball. Some individuals have attacked Fiers for being a whistleblower. Of course, Fiers was right.
For those who are cynical that these investigations are made only to silence criticism and put on a façade that baseball is serious about policing the game, the results were not surprising.
The commissioner is employed by the baseball owners. The report mentioned that the players were involved, and members of the Astros’ front office were involved. According to the report, the only person who seemed not to know about it was the team owner.
The second important group is the players’ union. It is in the owner’s interest to keep the peace with the players. It is also the job of the players’ union to protect its players.
The report concluded that every player on the team was involved in or at least knew about, the scheme. However, the only player on the 2017 Astros mentioned was Carlos Beltran, who is now retired and during the investigation had been hired as manager of the New York Mets. Beltran was not ready for this curve ball and was caught looking and thus his season ended. He was fired/resigned after the report came out. It was déjà vu for Beltran, who as a member of the New York Mets 14 years earlier, in game seven of the NL championship final was caught looking at a curve ball for strike three to end the game and the Mets season.
The only individuals who were disciplined were the manager and the general manager. The Astros ended up firing both.
None of the still active players from the 2017 championship team were disciplined. The excuse given in the report was that: “Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical. It is difficult because virtually all of the Astros players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable, or their relative degree of culpability. It is impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other clubs.”
This bogus excuse was contradicted by their own report.
“During the investigation, the DOI interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players. Some witnesses were interviewed multiple times. The DOI also reviewed tens of thousands of emails, Slack communications, text messages, video clips, and photographs.” This evidence would be sufficient to establish who was culpable and the extent of each player’s culpability.
When this reason did not fly, the commissioner gave another excuse that in order to obtain cooperation by every player, they had to grant immunity. The problem with this argument is that the commissioner does not explain why, with all the documentary evidence and possible witnesses, they needed to speak with every member of the team. Their own conclusion was that it was well known within the team and out in the open. Just speak with a couple of members if necessary. Speaking with the entire team was just a ploy by the commissioner to grant immunity to the players to justify the commissioner’s non-action against any player.
When this argument did not work, the commissioner gave the “Susan Collins defense,” that having this report and the conclusions that the Astros did something wrong is embarrassment enough for the team.
This also did not plan out. The Astros held a news conference where the owner and two players attempted to apologize for their actions. It backfired, since the owner denied that knowing the pitches in advance gave the team any advantage. This just angered players from other teams and more fans.
Of course, many Astros fans are defending the team’s conduct by arguing that it was no big deal (“Everyone does it”) or it had no effect on the results. The Yankees and the Dodgers are just trying to concoct an excuse as to why they lost to the Astros. Why should baseball be any different than politics?
Some players said that the Astros should be stripped of their championship, including giving back the 2017 World Series trophy. The Commissioner had two responses: First, the slippery slope argument that if you do it now, it sets a bad precedent for future cases. The problem with that argument is that here, the action was done to obtain a competitive advantage which helped them win the title. The second response was that it is just a piece of metal. The best response was by Justin Turner: “At this point, the only thing that’s devaluing that trophy is that it says commissioner on it. It’s pretty evident to me that it wasn’t earned.”
This is not the first time when allegations involving players affected play on the field. In 1919, a few players from the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw games in the World Series. Every player involved or who knew about the scheme was banned for life.
It is hard to see how this will play out in the end. I think that something more must be done to punish the Astros in order to placate players from other teams and the majority of fans. The commissioner has already warned opposing pitchers from taking the law into their own hands by throwing baseballs at Astro batters. The irony is that the players who retaliate would be suspended, while the Astros, who committed the illegal acts, go scot free.
My recommendation is that the commissioner should resign. He has mishandled this investigation. They need to bring an outside person not beholden either to management or the union to take real steps to clean up this mess. If the commissioner stays, I recommend that every player on the 2017 team should be suspended, with the length of the suspension determined based on the extent of his involvement. It doesn’t matter whether they are now on another team. If the Astros must play part or the entire 2020 season with minor league call-ups, they deserve it. The Astros should be stripped of their 2017 championship and must return the trophy.