Well, it finally happened. After two whole months of trash can memes, apologies to Yu Darvish, painful flashbacks to the 2017 World Series, and more, MLB has finally handed down its punishment to the Houston Astros. In addition to losing first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts and a $5 million fine, general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a year. Unsurprisingly, they were both fired immediately by owner Jim Crane.
This much we know.
Now, MLB Twitter has largely decried the punishment as too lenient, albeit with a comparable portion saying it was harsh enough. For the latter case, losing both a manager and GM changes the complexion of the franchise drastically, and leaves a lingering stain that will take a long time to cleanse.
Did the Houston Astros get what they deserved for cheating?
— Dodgers Nation (@DodgersNation) January 13, 2020
Ultimately, however, I do think it’s fair to say it didn’t go far enough. And as we see above, nearly 80% of the voting fan base agrees. This is a scandal that tarnishes the game on an even grander scale than the Black Sox and Pete Rose, both of which were met with lifetime bans. Thus, it deserved something even bigger.
Here are some reactions from our Dodgers Nation Twitter account to the above poll.
Pete rose bet on his team to win and got banned. The Astro CHEATED and they getting a slap on the wrist. Lol
— Frankie Wright (@wright_frankie) January 13, 2020
They got a World Series for cheating. Like being a banker…..cheat and make billions at the expense of a fine in the millions….go figure.
— Dr J (@mccririe_james) January 13, 2020
So what should MLB have also done to really bring the Astros to heel? There are a few areas where I believe more could have been handed down.
Vacating the WS title should have been the punishment. We don’t want a tainted WS title
— Zed James (@zedjames_) January 13, 2020
Let me get one thing out of the way: The Astros should not have had their title stripped. I went back and forth on this for months. Initially I was against it, then swung the opposite way and advocated for it. Eventually, I came to the realization that it’s a bad idea. Vacating championships is more of an NCAA province, and if MLB got into the business of it, it could lead to a slippery slope of titles getting contested for any reason. (Would the 1985 Royals have their trophy scrapped for Don Denkinger’s awful call?)
That being said, with MLB’s confirmation that the setup continued into the 2017 postseason, it is more than safe to conclude that Houston’s championship run is ill-gotten goods. Vacating a title is dubious, but a nice fat asterisk would have been warranted. It would probably be even more effective in subtly denoting that while the events still happened, they are forever tarnished by happening in an unfair playing field.
A consequence involving the playoffs had to happen for this to properly punish them, as well as sending a message to other teams. Either vacate the title or probation(no playoffs) for one season. It’s a bad look not doing one or the other.
— Kelly Leak (@seannichols34) January 14, 2020
Another possibility could have been restricting all forms of commerce with respect to the title. Winning a championship isn’t just cathartic joy and symbolic glory: it means money for whoever wins, and lots of it. The Astros have enjoyed millions in revenue in the two years since the 2017 World Series. Perhaps the team could no longer sell merchandise with the 2017 WS champion logo, or the official DVD and Blu-Ray. No anniversary reunions, and no showing the trophy at fan festivals. Let them keep the trophy and banner, but essentially rob them of all lasting value. Make them truly meaningless.
The next is the extent of losing draft picks. In my view, it should have gone up to four years of lost picks, as well as a loss of international signing privileges. As everyone knows, the Astros built their behemoth through a grueling tank that allowed them to harvest the likes of Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bergman via the draft. Thus, robbing them the chance of building the next wave would potentially destroy them.
Players should’ve received suspensions. Like a first time PED. Team would’ve suffered appropriately by their 50 game suspensions. They knew what they were doing was wrong. Didn’t care
— Brandon Hayward (@unclebeezinator) January 13, 2020
Most disconcerting, however, is the lack of punishment for any players. Manfred’s statement made it clear that it was a player-devised system, and yet not a single Astro hitter was slapped with a suspension or fine. How will that disincentivize Houston, and other players across the league, from carrying out similar or even worse schemes to gain an edge?
The obvious answer to this is that the player’s union would have stepped in. This is true, but it would have at least sent a message for MLB to at least try to punish the players in the first place. I would go with fines equivalent of World Series winning shares, and 15-20 game suspensions for all active players, whether or not they’re still in Houston.
After all, just as it is in a fair contest, it’s up to the players on the field to execute. There has been plenty of analysis to indicate that Houston’s sign-stealing scheme had a discernible impact on key offensive statistics throughout the 2017 season. This not only muddies the integrity of individual stats, team stats, regular season outcomes, and postseason outcomes. It also led to unfair results for their opponents, with some devastating consequences.
The got a slap on the wrist. They get to keep their title, no asterisks or anything. They get to keep their current team intact. They paid a small fine, lost a couple draft picks plus their manager and GM, but it was well worth it to them. Championships are forever.
— BSB (@BBorbz) January 13, 2020
Think of all those who were affected. First, and worst, are the young pitchers who likely had their careers ruined, being cut or demoted to the minors unfairly. Then, of course, are the potential playoff victims. Joe Girardi lost his job as Yankees manager. Yu Darvish was effectively burned at the stake in Los Angeles, and didn’t sign in free agency until February 2018 (for ostensibly less money).
Most of all, Clayton Kershaw’s performance in game 5. It torpedoed his legacy, turning the postseason monkey on his back into King Kong. His struggles in Octobers since have reduced him to a meme. I personally savaged him as the main reason the Dodgers failed to capture the title in 2017.
We owe Dave Roberts and @ClaytonKersh22 an apology. We all dragged them through the mud saying they were built to win a WS. Turns out we had the winning formula and lost twice to cheaters. The more I think about it, the more upset I get. You ban Pete Rose for Life ….. JS.
— John Paul (@Spindler1424) January 13, 2020
Imagine if he hadn’t been rocked. He likely not only wins a ring, but maybe even WS MVP, and his postseason struggles are purged Randy Johnson 2001-style. It is sickening to ponder all of that being denied due to such unfair circumstances. He deserved better, as did everyone who played the Astros in Houston in 2017.
A common response to all of this rancor has been to say that 2017 is in the past. What happened, happened. That is all true. We cannot change the past, and it’s not like the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers can just get those same teams back together and play makeup games next week.
Still, it’s safe to say that what happened, happened at least in part because of the worst kind of cheating imaginable. The essential beauty of baseball is supposed to be how clean it is. On a statistical and historical level, it doesn’t lie. Especially in the matter of who won the World Series in a given year, there is certitude with regards to who won, who lost, how it happened, the numbers that back it up, etc. Because of their illicit practices, the Astros’ sole title in their history is tarnished at best, if not outright fraudulent. The banner will fly forever, but history will not be kind to it.
They will never vacate it or strip the Ass-tros but it's no different than when Braun beat out Kemp for MVP only to come out later as a cheat….that MVP will always be tainted and every true baseball fan knows who the REAL NL MVP that season was!
— Johnny Chingas (@JohnnyChingas_1) January 13, 2020
For that, Houston received a decent punishment. Losing the GM and manager once celebrated for taking them to the top is devastating, and the loss of draft picks could be lethal when paired with their depleted farm system and players likely leaving in free agency. Add an aging starting rotation, and Houston’s push to become the next dynasty could be plummeting very rapidly.
But it wasn’t punishment enough. This cheating forever destroyed what seemed to be a great year in MLB history, tarnished its postseason, altered the lives and legacies of many players and coaches, and presently threatens the integrity of a game already beleaguered with other issues.
It’s comforting to know the Astros will effectively pay with their reputations, and that the title they claimed at the expense of our Dodgers is now universally seen as a fraud. But the actual payment, especially to deter other teams from doing the same, came up just a bit short.
There is one last measure that can be taken, however: Ban Alex Cora for life for his dual role in Houston and Boston.