There is No Joy in Mudville, Mighty Baseball Has Struck Out
This column was supposed to be about the opening of the 2020 baseball season but the Coronavirus has brought about baseball’s silent spring with no thwok of a ball into a mitt, no pop of a Louisville Slugger, and no impassioned degree from an umpire to “play ball.” MLB has joined the other alphabet sports organizations to suspend their seasons for an undetermined time.
Normally spring without baseball would be like fettuccine without Alfredo for me, but I lost my usual enthusiasm for the game because of some incidents that have me rethinking my attitude towards baseball.
My antipathy for this season stems from how the Houston Astros bent the rules to win. Their shady electronic stealing of signs during home games in the 2017 World Series gave them a tremendous advantage over their opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Stealing the other team’s signs is part of the game. It was even something I tried to do at any game I attended. I tried to interpret the complicated signs the third base coach was flashing to the batter and base runners. There were times when I actually succeeded in guessing the sign, verified when a runner tried to steal a base, or the hit-and-run play was put into action. Most of the time I was wrong.
What did the Astros do? It’s believed that, back in 2017, the Astros had a team employee improperly viewing a video feed of the game to watch the opposing team’s catcher to try to figure out which pitch would be thrown. The Astros would signal if they determined that a breaking ball or some other off-speed pitch was coming. This gave the batter a decided edge. I remember the home runs the Astros hit during that World Series, even remarking to myself that it was as if they knew what pitch was coming. They did.
Recently Barry Bonds said he believed he would be given the death penalty by being snubbed by the baseball writers who vote on Hall of Fame inductees. If Bonds isn’t voted into the HOF within two years, he will be omitted forever. Which is fine with me. How many of his record home runs would have fallen five or ten feet short if he hadn’t taken steroids? If during his 9,847 trips to the plate, 1.1 per cent of his 762 home runs didn’t clear the fence, Hank Aaron would still be the all-time home run hitter. It all comes down to whether or not Bonds cheated. Apparently, many of those who do the voting think he did, as did the United States Congress, which investigated the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs in baseball. The result was the Mitchell Report. The report named hundreds of current and former major league players that tested positive for steroids. Did Bonds cheat? The decision of the U.S. Congress to become involved in the matter cemented him, and other players, as cheaters and dishonest individuals.
Pete Rose, who has been banned from baseball for life, asked for reinstatement. Baseball writers have tripped over their journalistic ethics rushing to support him, saying it would be a tragedy if the statistics of baseball’s all-time hit leader were never a part of baseball lore. Rose bet on games. He claims he never bet on games his team was involved in. Baseball’s rules against betting are posted in English and Spanish in every clubhouse. They is no plausible deniability. Rose broke the rules.
Let’s compare baseball to golf. Truth, honesty and integrity are intrinsic to the game of golf. A golfer is not only a player, he is referee, umpire, official, linesman, or simply put, the arbiter of his own actions during a tournament. In no other sport where so much money is at stake do the participants act as both players and officials. There are numerous stories about golfers calling penalties on themselves – often over infractions that no one else saw – that led to their disqualification, often costing them thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Winning by cheating is exploiting those who competed in good faith, which crushes any self-serving justification for using steroids or breaking rules. A person can compete at a game, or cheat at a game. You cannot do both. When asked about the penalties he called on himself, the great Bobby Jones said, “there is only one way to play this game.”
The Astros team was fined heavily. The manager and general manager were fired and suspended from baseball for a year. None of the players who knew what was going on and benefited from the cheating suffered any penalties. Yes, a few opposing pitchers threw at them during spring training and will probably continue to do so when and if the regular season starts. Big deal. If the Houston players were golfers they would have penalized themselves, perhaps by a self-imposed ban from the game for a year – without pay! If I were an opposing pitcher, those Houston players would be sporting some baseball shaped bruises right on their cheating Astros.
Contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org