Knowledge has a way of making things . . . complicated. What was once a story of redemption has now devolved into a tangled web of ridiculous lies and a maddening lack of accountability. The virus of this scandal has now spread beyond the walls of Minute Maid park to locker rooms and offices throughout Major League Baseball, activating a level of unprecedented tribalism among fans and players alike.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has done nothing but fan the flames of fury. In a train wreck of a press conference, he mentioned that the public will inflict enough punishment to justify his own lack of action (I praised him for this initially, but this has obviously aged poorly). Even viewed in the most positive light, Manfred’s notion validates a lot of theories: that he’s disconnected from the game itself; that he’s not personally invested in its integrity. I’m too young to back this statement up with experience, but . . . damn do I wish Bart Giamatti were here to handle this.
There have been many different types of punishments floated among fans, players, teams, and MLB executives alike, ranging from lifetime bans to stripping the team of its World Series title and simply vacating that year in the history books.
STRONG OPINION COMING:
The idea of vacating a World Series title, something completely unprecedented in the history of baseball, is ridiculous.
Despite what anyone in Atlanta says, Barry Bonds is still baseball’s Home Run King. Pete Rose still has the most hits of any player, ever. The Cincinnati Reds still won the 1919 World Series, even if the Black Sox threw the series.
All of these facts are indisputably true. They happened in real time, with real people, and are documented. The common thread is that each one of these accomplishments comes with enough baggage attached to invalidate its prestige—to the point of becoming accepted culture among the baseball public.
THIS is how we deal with the 2017 Astros. This is how we levy the appropriate punishment while also moving the game forward. Baseball is rife with imperfect history. From the exclusion of black players, to gambling, to PEDs, the game has shown itself to be a frustratingly human institution, just like the people who populate it.
The 2017 World Series was exciting. It was dramatic. I remember sitting in my living room watching Game Five unfold and uttering “Are you kidding me?” at least twice. Of all the World Series games that I’ve watched, this series gave fans the joyous gift of not one, but TWO epic contests worthy of immortal remembrance.
Yet here we are, just three years later, unravelling the sign-stealing scheme that made it all possible. It is the gradual lifting of the veil, revealing the darkest truths about our most sacred ritual.
Despite Manfred’s dismissive delivery and overall aloof demeanor, he did hit on a certain conundrum about the scandal. Should he levy punishment on the players, it would satisfy our short-term anger and place a tangible action on the Astros transgressions. It makes sense, and I wouldn’t argue against some kind of action, short of the absurdity of abdicating titles, banning seasons, or anything of that ilk.
But if he doesn’t, the responsibility DOES lie with the baseball public to bring down judgment. After all, it is OUR game. Sure, there are people to police it and make sure that the integrity of the product we pay for (via ticket purchases or tax-funded stadiums) is not only of the utmost quality, but is, as they say, “on the level.” But the history books are written by us. The ultimate goal for a baseball player is immortality: to be remembered by peers and fans for their accomplishments. To take that from them is not only supreme punishment to a player but also a display of power by the fans themselves. Forcing an air of universal disdain when Justin Verlander takes the stage at his eventual Hall of Fame induction is a punishment that has no shelf life.
The truth is, there is no “reasonable” punishment that could be levied against the Astros of 2017 that would not set some kind of catastrophic precedent, or that could tangibly help the situation as we roll toward another round of increasingly tense labor negotiations. Consequences must be handled by those who hold the most power: us.
Rather than undo the past, let’s control the future.