Baltimore Orioles: Implications of the Sign-Stealing Scandals
After the recent news that rocked Major League Baseball (luckily not directly impacting anyone employed by the Baltimore Orioles), contributor Ben Schneider shares his thoughts.
On Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the Houston Astros punishment for their sign-stealing scheme involving video technology when they won the 2017 World Series. GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager AJ Hinch have both been suspended for one baseball season, the team is fined $5 million, and their first- and second-round draft picks have been revoked in 2020 and 2021.
Soon after, Astros owner Jim Crane quite publicly fired Luhnow and Hinch.
MLB is also investigating the Boston Red Sox for their own sign-stealing system involving the replay review room. In the wake of Alex Cora being responsible for both scandals, the Red Sox and Cora decided to mutually part ways before MLB likely suspends him for a year as well.
These scandals are deeply disturbing because the schemes tear apart at the very core of what makes baseball a beautiful sport: actually playing for the love of the game. Everyone in the major leagues is competitive, but the very best teams have forgotten about making baseball fun. While the Steroid Era is a real stain on baseball’s history, fans didn’t question whether events in a game were real or not. Now, any given pitch could be picked up by a camera instead of a hitter’s own pitch recognition.
Despite some writers from opposing teams celebrating, there is nothing good that comes from this. The Astros, and possibly Red Sox, will be at a disadvantage for the next couple years, but whatever advantage their competitors pick up is still bad for a sport built on integrity, and there is a good chance that some of them have cheated as well. Baseball will of course still be popular, but MLB will once again have to rebuild its image.
The punishment for the Astros is simultaneously harsh and light. Suspending the two most important figures on a baseball team for a whole season is a good sign that the league is taking this seriously, but any team, especially one as developed as the Astros, can manage with the rest of their front office and coaching staff.
The $5 million fine is the most Manfred can take away, and that amounts to the salary of a pretty decent player, but a team does not really need that $5 million when team salaries are in the hundreds of millions. Losing the top two picks for two years really hurts a farm system in the long term, but there are always ways beyond drafting to build a team.
The more concerning aspects are lack of discipline elsewhere. The Astros were not restricted in the international market at all. Jim Crane was not punished in any way because he was not aware of the scheme, but an owner should still know what goes on in the clubhouse, as the GM and manager do.
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Even though players came up with much of the system, none of them were suspended in exchange for their testimonies. Manfred is in an admittedly tough spot because the owners are his bosses so he doesn’t want to anger them too much, and tensions are already running high with the MLBPA. Suspensions would lead to grievances and court battles that drag on and keep the scandal in the foreground, but the lack of punishment for those responsible is still unnerving.
I think the Red Sox firing Alex Cora is a tough one to swallow. From an optics perspective, having a manager who’s part of two scandals is definitely a bad look, but the team should be basing this just on what applies to the Red Sox, just as the Mets should with Carlos Beltran. The Red Sox scandal is certainly disturbing, but it is not on the same level as the Astros and does not warrant firing Cora.
Living in Boston, it is plainly obvious what Cora means to the city. In rejuvenating the Sox after John Farrell, Cora brought some much-needed energy and excitement and supported his home of Puerto Rico. He built a team that enables players to greatly improve, unfortunately, he also enabled them in other ways.
The scandals do not have much to do with the Baltimore Orioles, but they are important to remember going forward. As far as we know, the schemes only occurred in years when the Orioles were under .500, so they were not really affected by them. But, we all let out a sigh of relief that no member of the Orioles front office was implicated in the report on Monday. I don’t think the Orioles have used technology to cheat in recent years, but the possibility is always there and we don’t know how extensive this entire cheating situation is.
As we look ahead to a decade of competitiveness in Baltimore, I hope we all remember the frustration we feel now and play baseball with integrity.