In light of the Houston Astros' recent cheating scandal, sports intern Ellie Kinney and asst. sports editor Alex Hutton give their opinions on whether the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 World Series championship title.
The Houston Astros’ punishment for their sign-stealing scandal was not severe enough, and the team should be stripped of their 2017 World Series title.
I am a diehard fan of baseball, but only when the game is played the right way. For players and teams who can make millions despite cheating their way to the top, the only way to truly punish them is by taking their Hall of Fame or championship titles.
If you’re not up to date on the scandal, two reporters for The Athletic published an article in November exposing the Houston Astros for electronic sign-stealing during their 2017 championship season. This prompted a widespread investigation by MLB, and on Jan. 13 MLB commissioner Rob Manfred released the investigation’s findings: the Astros did indeed cheat throughout the 2017 season and into early 2018.
According to the report, the Astros had a camera placed in center field that streamed a live feed into the hallway between the Astros’ dugout and clubhouse. A player would watch the video feed to obtain the opposing team’s pitch sign, and the team would then bang a certain number of times on a trash can to notify the batter of what pitch was coming.
The Astros did receive a punishment from MLB following the investigation’s report, which included the suspensions of manager A.J. Hinch, GM Jeff Luhnow and former assistant GM Brandon Taubman, a $5 million fine and the loss of all first-and second-round draft picks for the next two years. While this punishment is not insignificant, I believe the Astros should lose their 2017 World Championship title.
The main reason I support this extra punishment is because the team continued to electronically steal signs even after Manfred issued a warning to all MLB clubs in September 2017 following the Boston Red Sox’s use of smartwatches to steal signs. He stated that any club to engage in electronic sign-stealing from then on would face a much harsher punishment. The Astros’ clear violation of this warning should make them lose the title of World Champions.
For MLB clubs, every one of which is worth at least $1 billion, I don’t believe these material punishments will be enough to deter future electronic sign-stealing. After all, baseball is a business; if all they have to lose is $5 million, a few draft picks and one season from their managers, what team wouldn’t take the risk to potentially win the World Series? Taking a championship away would have a much stronger effect and serve as a harsh warning to other teams.
As do many other baseball fans, I want the game to be as fair as possible. To achieve this, there need to be much more severe punishments that will actually be effective in deterring cheating. Much like keeping Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame, taking away a team’s championship may seem extreme. However, I believe these punishments are necessary to maintain the integrity of the game.
History is a collection of objective facts and memories. It cannot be undone like the canon of a movie franchise. For this reason, it is absurd to vacate Houston’s championship. Doing so wouldn’t punish the team in any way.
Let’s say that the MLB did choose to vacate the title. Vacation would not change the way that anyone thinks of the 2017 postseason. It will not stop Astros fans or players from remembering the joys and thrills they experienced that October. It will not alter the reality that the Astros picked up the required 11 wins, hoisted the trophy and paraded through their home city. No matter what the record book says, no one will truly believe that the Astros did not win the 2017 World Series.
To further understand why this punishment would be ineffective, let’s look at the NCAA, where the vacating of wins and awards is a common punishment for things like recruiting violations. Programs such as Louisville men’s basketball and USC football were forced to strip national titles from their history. USC running back Reggie Bush’s 2005 Heisman Trophy was returned after he was ruled to have played while ineligible during that season. And yet, vacating all of these accolades doesn’t erase anybody’s memories of how good those teams were. It doesn’t stop anybody from thinking of Louisville and USC as championship-winning programs. No one will forget how Bush had everyone on the edge of their seats every time he touched the ball.
The key to making a team pay for its actions is by disciplining the team in a way that will negatively affect their future. The rest of the punishments, which included a $5 million fine, the forfeiting of draft picks and suspensions for general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, were much more adequate in this regard. Yes, the overall penalties should have been harsher — specific players should have been suspended and even a one-year postseason ban should have been considered. But to retroactively get rid of a World Series victory would do nothing to discourage this type of behavior in the future.