The Thing About Discipline

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press / LM Otero

Interestingly enough, this is the eighty-sixth article this author has written for Sports Radio America and that ties well to the idea that when discipline is usually given it means someone or something is being 86’d.  The aforementioned brings light humor to the fact that Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred handed out the most significant punishment to team or personnel since the 1919 Black Sox World Series game-fixing scandal or the life-time banishment of would-be Hall of Famer Pete Rose for betting on his own games while managing and playing.  Either way, America’s Past Time took a hit today when several key figures and possibly two organizations utilized technology to steal catcher signs to win baseball games in direct violation of League rules.    

So many adages could be written here about effort and winning when contemplating the Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, and Alex Cora cheating scandal.  The history and now punishment has been well documented.  Players and coaches alike instituted a program with the use of technology in violation of 2017 MLB Rules.  The Rules prohibited the use of any technology, including video live-stream, Apple watches, and trash cans to help one team gain in-game advantage over another.

Despite having admitted or discovered written and/or spoken knowledge of the technology program, whether detailed or not, leadership in both organizations were culpable or should have known and the Commissioner’s decision reflects that.  Some onlookers are not satisfied.  However, and in that vein, there are three things the MLB League Office decision did not and will not do now or in the future. 

1. Removal of a World Series Championship

The fact is that despite an entire organization, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and fan base being left wanting more, removal of a World Series ring is so far-fetched and would have to be proven through significant evidence that “X” led to “Y”.  Meaning, direct proof, not conjecture or feeling, that the technology program led to the Astros winning the 2017 World Series (and the 2018 Red Sox for that matter too), and without question.  However, that cannot be true where the Astros also won not using the program and of course unless one is all-knowing how can one determine alternate results that are weighed fairly without bias?  Cheating creates the appearance of impropriety, which warrants punishment, but it does not warrant removal.  Sports history also shows that removal is almost never warranted and that history itself is judge and judgment.    

2. Life-time ban

Brandon Taubman (former Astros Assistant General Manager) did receive a life-time ban, but that was because of his prior behavior in working with the media, specifically a female reporter.  Life-time bans are for culpable behavior or serious negligence.  The evidence here shows that although management knew of the scheme or should have known, but did not implement or encourage the use of technology to aid in winning baseball games.  The aforementioned cannot be said of Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, however, who is still under investigation.  It is said that Cora had direct involvement in creating and implementing the use of technology to steal signs and win baseball games in both Houston and Boston.  A life-time ban for Cora (as implementor and encourager) would not be surprising where Luhnow and Hinch received one-year dismissals and were promptly fired by the Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.     

3. Significant financial fine or recovery 

Commissioner Manfred was limited pursuant to MLB rules to a $5 million dollar fine, which was handed down against the Houston Astros along with the removal of four draft picks.  However, sports organizations gain significant revenue from winning championships, especially the World Series.  Here, a more significant fine is limited by the rules, and practically speaking it is nearly impossible to determine how much the technology helped win games to justify taking back revenue and financial windfalls.  Therefore, clawing back money is just as difficult as clawing back a championship where the two forms of punishment are inextricably connected. 

There is one question remaining on the collective public mind.  Why were ownership and the players alike not punished?  The letter mentioned Astros owner Jim Crane as not being culpable as an actor who took at least one step to engage management to not cheat using technology.  The Commissioner’s letter is somewhat silent on the players involved saying cooperation was high and that some players had left the team’s (Astros) employ.  Regardless, it was an important day for Major League Baseball in an effort of trying to clean up the beloved game. 

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