There’s getting what you want, even when it’s pretty sordid, and then there’s shoveling what you don’t want out the window before anyone can notice.
It helps to do either or both when you can do it in darkness thanks to everyone’s attention being elsewhere. Or when things align for you, even if they’re the most unfortunate circumstances. Major League Baseball reportedly is going to get what it wants in negotiations with Minor League Baseball during the shutdown, using MILB’s clubs desperate situations as leverage, essentially. As far as dealing with the Red Sox, MLB is using the shadows provided by being far down the list of urgent news stories to barely produce a slap on the wrist.
So it played out at the end of the week with the slap on the wrist the Boston Red Sox got for their cheating scandal, such as it was, of 2018. Only a low-level video guy got any sort of suspension, what with manager Alex Cora and former general manager Dave Dombrowski already being out of a job, and any players having immunity.
Rob Manfred backed himself into a corner on this one. He had already set precedent of players skating on this with the Astros investigation, so there was little hope or way to not give the Red Sox players the same treatment, both through immunity and lack of discipline.
Second, it would have been impossible for Manfred to come down harder on the Red Sox without the Astros losing their shit, for what were seen as “lesser offenses.” The Red Sox were essentially doing their sign-stealing on tape and then relaying them to second base, just one-degree past what is “acceptable” sign-stealing (seeing a catcher’s signal from second base organically, as it were). Whereas the Astros completely urinated on whatever imaginary lines there were and are. It’s not as if these offenses took place after the Astros discipline had been handed down, so Manfred couldn’t claim they had flouted a new set of guidelines or ignored previous punishments. This all took place before Mike Fiers and The Athletic blew the whistle.
Manfred and MLB have wanted this cheating angle to go away for a while, and it certainly didn’t want the validity of two World Series champions to be questioned instead of the one it already has.
MLB is also going to struggle to steer where it goes from this, because while it can limit the use of in-game replay rooms and officials, video is always going to be part of advance scouting and players researching pitchers (and vice versa). Which means that signs are going to be part of that video. MLB doesn’t have an answer for that yet, and it probably won’t get one. You can’t put technology back in the box, after all. And it can’t walk back having replay as part of its games.
The simple answer, and one they haven’t shown any inkling to use, is to put replay in the hands of the umpires and not the teams. A fifth member of every umpiring crew either in the pressbox or at the league offices who would ring down when something needs to be gone over. That would take replay rooms out of the teams’ hands, control, and chance of being exploited for nefarious means. But that still wouldn’t do much about players using video to go over previous ABs in the clubhouse.
MLB has avoided using that method for fear of too many plays and decisions going to replay and extending games to four hours, which we know is Manfred’s greatest nightmare. Also it would be questionable how much of an appetite umpires would have to correct their fellow crew-members. Still, eliminating the time it takes for the manager to hold his hand up, check with the bench coach on the phone, who is checking back with the replay room, and all of that to replay back would probably cancel out the first problem. Adhering to a strict time-limit as they don’t really do now would also help. The second problem could be solved by rotating replay officials separate from the umpiring crew.
MLB is probably counting on fans and media alike being so overjoyed when the games return that stories like this will be lost in the wash. They’re probably right to do so.
Never let a crisis go to waste, and all that.