The Houston Astros got busted. They used cameras to steal signs and relay the information to their batters, gaining an unfair advantage over opposing pitchers. Their technological operation was undone by their $5 implementation. Come on, if you are using technology to steal signs, why bang a trash can to signal the batter. Do better.
MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred punished those involved in the sign stealing scheme. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Unsurprisingly, both were immediately fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Houston forfeitedtheir 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts, and must pay a $5 million fine. The wait continues for former Astros Bench Coach and now former Red Sox Manager Alex Cora’s punishment. Cora was the mastermind of the scheme, so his punishment will certainly be stiffer as he brought his scheme to Boston. MLB will not punish active players, but this does not include former players such as new and now former Mets Manager Carlos Beltran. It is highly doubtful the Astros, and Red Sox, were the only ones stealing signs, they just got caught.
Opinions vary on the appropriate punishment. Sign stealing is not a big deal, move along. Give the Astros the death penalty and strip them of the 2017 World Series. The most idiotic assertion is this is worse than Pete Rose and his gambling. Rose controlled the Reds while betting on them. Yes he always bet on Cincinnati to win, but there is a problem. Rose had an additional vested interest in winning. If he over used a pitcher in a game he bet on, his actions influenced the next day’s game which he may not bet on. Managing a team should not be based on daily wagers. The Astros gained an advantage knowing a certain pitch was coming. This altered the outcome of games. Both Rose and the Astros are guilty of stupidity, among other things. However their baseball crimes are not the same.
The Astros MVP, complete with the wounds from getting hit to signal Houston batters. (ww.theathletic.com)
No perfect punishment exists. People will view the penalty as too lenient or too harsh. The teams Houston defeated have legitimate arguments that their opportunity to win was tainted. No one can change the past, but here is how to punish the Astros and dissuade future teams from creating sign stealing operations. First, Houston cannot hire a new General Manager or Manager until after the 2020 World Series. Obviously someone will assume both roles, but the Astros would have one less member of the front off and coaching staff. Second, Houston must host two home games which are not opened to the public. The Astros will pay game day staff for these days off. The games will be weekend games in June or July, not throw away games at the end of the season. Houston made millions winning, make them lose two games worth of income. Third, no regular season prime time games for two years. No Sunday Night Baseball. No special location games. No special attention. Fourth, make opposing players who had difficulty against the Astros and were subsequently sent down or released whole. If said player is within one year of reaching the 10 years necessary to receive an MLB pension, Houston must pay the player league minimum for the extra season and then cover their MLB pension for 10 years. If the player would not qualify for the MLB pension, Houston owes that player their highest one season salary each year for the next 10 years. These punishments are in addition to what was already handed down. Make the punishment long and annoying.
Obviously none of these additional punishments will occur, but you can dream. Houston did not just steal signs, they literally cost players and coaches jobs. Hopefully their cameras can see that too.
Once again Major League Baseball is worrying about pace of play during games. Commissioner Rob Manfred and Executive Director of the Player’s Association Tony Clark have gone back and forth about proposed rule changes to speed up games in 2018. The latest round of pace of play rules include limiting catchers to one mound visit per inning per pitcher, a 20 second pitch clock, and raising the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top. All of these changes have been rejected by the Player’s Association, yet MLB could still institute them unilaterally for the 2018 season. The average game in 2017 lasted three hours and five minutes, which is longer than before the last round of pace of play rules were instituted. So with longer games comes more tinkering.
Baseball, like all sports, will have slow boring games from time to time, this is just reality. Instead of trying to change the game, why not take some steps that would improve fan interaction with baseball. Shorten commercial breaks for those watching at home. All the talk is about pace of play, what about when fans cannot even see the game. Obviously baseball makes a great deal of money off commercials, so raise the price of those commercials. How can you raise the price of commercials throughout the year? Market the players more. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and many more should be as well know as the top football and basketball players. If MLB marketed the players more aggressively, they could charge advertisers more for commercials and partnerships as the endorsement of these players would have greater weight nationally. Increased revenue from advertising would mean shorter commercial breaks during games. Take away one 30 second commercial from each break and you have saved close to 10 minutes during each game.
Baseball should focus on eliminating down time not necessarily the time needed to complete a game. Shorter commercial breaks are a great place to start. (Chuck Solomon/ Sports Illistrated)
The pitch clock, which is already used in the minor leagues, and does not do much. I have not seen nor heard of any pitcher getting charged a ball for taking too long. It is a friendly reminder to get on with the next pitch, but little else. Limiting mound visits could minimally speed up the game, however multiple mound visits in an inning usually only occurs in late game, high leverage moments. Let the players play. Speed the game up in when little is happening, not when the game is on the line.
This off season has also seen an incredibly slow free agent market. Call it what you want: collusion, low balling the players, players and agents having unrealistic salary expectations. Whatever. Yes, both sides, owners and players, want to make as much money as possible. Owners want a return on their financial investments, players want to maximize their earnings during their playing careers. However, when agents like Brodie Van Wagenen start floating ideas like players boycotting Spring Training this makes baseball look bad. Baseball has had labor peace for almost a quarter century, one slow off season and you are ready to blow it up? The Strike in 1994 did major, lasting damage to baseball. Lots of fans lost interest and it took years for the game to come back. Cal Ripken Jr. passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring many fans back, but not all of them. Is another scandalous era like the steroid era really in baseball’s best interest?
Baseball needs to market itself and the players more aggressively. If people are interested, they will not care that a game lasts a little over three hours. Give the fans something to be interested in, even if the game itself is not great. Start games a little earlier so kids can watch more of a game, or the whole game before they have to go to bed. Starting a game at 6:45 pm instead of 7:05 pm would give a kid twenty more minutes of baseball, or roughly a full inning of baseball. Getting kids and young adults interested in baseball will grow baseball to new heights. Shaving a minute or two off the average length of a game ultimately does not matter if the sport itself is not drawing and holding the attention of an ever growing audience. Pace of play is important, but not if people were never interested in the first place. Put the game and players on display, not the advertisers.
The netting at baseball games is about to increase. Major League Baseball has recommended that teams add netting to shield field level seats within 70 feet of home plate. This is an effort to protect fans from baseballs and bats that can reach the stands before fans have the opportunity to react.
There has been some resistance to the additional netting from Major League teams and fans. Teams do not want to run the risk of installing additional netting and upsetting fans. Fans do not want their view of the game obstructed in any way. Both the teams and the fans have valid arguments. However, a third argument is even more important: fan safety. Fans are the lifeblood of the sport, without them professional baseball does not exist. Protecting the fans is important for multiple reasons, but there are two primary reasons why Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball had to take this step. First, protecting the fans is critical from a decency standpoint. Additional netting is a simple solution to a problem that can result in serious injury or potentially death.
The National Hockey League was pressed into adding additional netting behind each goal following the death of 13 year old Brittanie Cecil who died two days after being struck by a puck in 2002. Hockey understood that it had to protect its fans. Commissioner Gary Bettman also understood that fans want to see the action on the ice. The netting allows for both as Bettman responded to concerns about an obstructed view of the game “After three minutes people won’t know it’s there.”
The addition of some extra netting does not change how the game is played on the field, thus it preserves the pleasure fans seek from attending a game. This leads us to the second reason. Baseball fans watch the game in an intimate setting. Seats are literally inches from the playing field. Sitting close enough to home plate where you can see curveballs curve. The addition of netting does not change this. I have had the opportunity to sit behind the netting at minor league and college games. On several occasions, if a ball had been hit at me I would not have had enough time to react to protect myself. However, the netting in place protected me without obstructing my view and enjoyment of the game. If the netting did obstruct the view of the game baseball as a whole would have long ago found a way to resolve this issue. The seats directly behind home plate, and behind the netting, are not cheap, baseball is going to take care of their highest paying customers.
About 15 years ago, my family and I attended a Greenville Braves game in Greenville, South Carolina. Greenville Municipal Stadium was a great place to watch a baseball game. We sat down the third base line, a few sections past the dugout and third base. A screaming foul ball came our way and everyone ducked, but the ball ricocheted off the seats behind us and hit my Mom in the head. The medical staff quickly arrived and checked my Mom out. She was thankfully fine, nothing more than a good knot on her head and a decent headache that went away in an hour or so. Imagine what that ball could have done to someone’s face if they did not have time to react and the ball had not ricocheted off something, thus reducing the force of the impact. My Mom could have easily been hospitalized or worse. Simple solutions to potentially life altering problems should be common sense.
The addition of extended netting to protect fans is a win-win. Families with small children do not have to worry about their children being struck by a bat or ball. These families can gain a new and wonderful view of the game. Major League Baseball has worked to keep the focus on the field where teams are playing and not in the stands after a fan is struck with a bat or ball and unfortunately injured. Attending a baseball game should always be about having fun not worrying about being hit by a bat or ball. Commissioner Manfred and the rest of Major League Baseball have done the right thing, there was a problem with a simple solution and they took action to fix it.
At the All Star game, Commissioner Rob Manfred discussed Major League Baseball expanding in the future. Well we at The Winning Run thought we would go ahead with that idea and expand. Bernie has joined our team and will be a great addition as he brings along his own perspective and love for baseball. Bernie will be working as a contributing writer and editor (click here for his first article).
Please read his full biography below:
I’m the prodigal son this blog never knew it fathered. Baseball is my romcom of drama, analysis, and daily gossip once again. I’ve been a Yankees fan from the start of this affair but I love watching small ball with squeeze plays and think the designated hitter is superfluous. Since meeting Derek while trying to learn how to save the world and realizing how messed up it can be, I’d like pretend baseball is my world and live there.
Welcome to The Winning Run Bernie. Play ball.
It is not often that organizations as prominent or as influential as Major League Baseball, the Chicago White Sox, or the New York Yankees make a mistake solely because they missed the obvious. Unfortunately, this is what has happened. Major League Baseball, the Chicago White Sox, and the New York Yankees all decided to honor former players on Memorial Day weekend. Paul Konerko of the White Sox and Bernie Williams of the Yankees are both deserving of having their numbers retired by their former teams, however the timing of this honor goes beyond poor taste.
Memorial Day has become synonymous with the start of summer, big retail sales, and get aways to the beach or the lake. In baseball, school is out so more families start to come to the ballpark and the season really comes alive. However, Memorial Day is actually for remembering those who have given their lives in defense of our nation. Memorial Day, and its predecessors, dates back to 1868 just after the Civil War. Memorial Day is a time for reflection and gratitude for those who gave everything they could to safeguard our nation and the freedoms we enjoy. Memorial Day is when we as a nation honor the sacrifices of the men and women we have lost during times of war, and the wives, husbands, children, siblings, parents they have left behind.
The decision to honor former players on this, or any Memorial Day weekend, is in poor taste. Baseball is ultimately nothing more than a distraction from the important things in life. While the game is an important part of the American experience, it is and will always be just a game. Making critical decisions on the baseball field can alter the outcome of a game, a season, or the success of a franchise. Making critical decisions on the battlefield can alter lives regarding winning a battle, ending a war, and returning soldiers safely home. The importance of baseball is not in the same hemisphere as that of the military.
The players are not to blame for this mistake; rather it is the decision makers higher up in the individual teams and in Major League Baseball. The Commissioner’s Office, and Commissioner Rob Manfred, should have stepped in and strongly suggested the White Sox and the Yankees select a different weekend to honor their former players. Retiring a player’s number is a big draw for a team, so why would you try to combine it with Memorial Day. Baseball is a business, so it suits a team’s interest to not double down on events. Both teams would have benefited from separating Memorial Day and the retirement of their former players’ numbers. The Yankees, the White Sox, and Major League Baseball all individually and collectively made both poor business decisions and a poor decision regarding the honoring of those who have given their lives to protect the United States.
Memorial Day weekend is about remembering those who have given their lives for something far greater than themselves. Let us all remember these brave men and women, and not forget what this weekend is truly about.