The Red Sox got away with cheating their way to a World Series victory in 2018, as Major League Baseball announced this week that Boston’s only sanctions for illegal sign-stealing methods would be a two-year suspension for a video replay system operator and the loss of a second-round draft pick.
You’d think that the most laughable reaction to this would have been the all-news-is-local-news approach of the Houston Chronicle, with a piece titled, “Why the Red Sox got off easy and the Astros didn’t,” given that the cheating champions of 2017 also got off easy.
The Astros were docked two second-round picks instead of one, were fined $5 million (owner Jim Crane is worth $2.5 billion), and had their manager and general manager suspended for a year. Houston wound up upgrading managerially from A.J. Hinch to Dusty Baker, and McKinseyan value-extracting general managers like Jeff Luhnow are easily replaced. The Astros’ punishment was so laughable, the New York Times headline about it was, “Manfred Says Astros’ Shame Is Penalty Enough. Opponents Might Disagree.” That’s the same treatment the Gray Lady gave to the President of the United States suggesting that people should drink bleach on Twitter: “At a White House briefing, President Trump theorized — dangerously, in the view of some experts — about the powers of sunlight, ultraviolet light and household disinfectants to kill the coronavirus.” (The Times later deleted the tweet).
As ludicrous as the idea is that the Astros didn’t get off easy, the Bullshitzer Prize for the Red Sox goes to the Boston Globe, which asks the important question: “How much did the Red Sox benefit from the rules violations of 2018?”
They cheated. They got caught. They got a punishment that amounts to almost nothing. The appropriate reaction here would be to thank your lucky stars, but the newspaper that’s owned by the owner of the Red Sox wants to make it clear that…
- It’s not a big deal because everyone was doing it: “Given the belief of many teams that such behavior was common throughout the game in 2018, some around the organization undoubtedly consider the violation akin to keeping pace with traffic at 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. Nonetheless, if one car gets pulled over for going 65, it’s still subject to a ticket.” Would some around the organization include Globe and Red Sox owner John Henry? Who’s to say?
- Even though the Red Sox’s cheating was designed to boost their offense with runners on second base, you can’t prove that wouldn’t have happened anyway with a lineup this talented: “The Sox saw significant improvement, but of a scale that has been seen with other standout offenses of recent seasons.”
- The real problem is you, the person who thinks rules should be followed and breaking the rules should have consequences: “Outside of absolutists who conclude that any finding of a rules violation taints a title, it’s in the eye of the beholder to interpret the gray-tinted residue left by the report.”
Maybe other teams were cheating. Maybe the Red Sox’s cheating was limited in scope and gave them a boost on par with the upper end of season-to-season fluctuations of non-cheating teams. Maybe Boston would have won the World Series anyway had there never been any cheating.
Or maybe what should matter is that the Red Sox broke the rules and that Rob Manfred’s punishments to them and to the Astros were not nearly strong enough to serve as a deterrent to future cheating-inclined individuals and teams in Major League Baseball.
It mattered 100 years ago, when the White Sox, in late September and only a half-game behind Cleveland, suspended their own players and cost themselves the pennant. That’s part of the Black Sox scandal that often gets forgotten, that it wasn’t until after the 1920 season that Judge Landis became commissioner and not until 1921 that the “Eight Men Out” were banned for life.
Charles Comiskey, so often painted as the villainous owner who was so cheap his players had no choice but to consort with gamblers, really did play a heroic role here in preserving baseball’s integrity, as he wrote, “Until there is a finality to this investigation it is due to the public that I take this action, even though it costs Chicago the pennant.”
That’s not to say Comiskey wasn’t cheap and a villain, but when it came down to it, he did recognize that professional baseball is a worthless business if the paying customers don’t believe that what they’re watching is on the level. And when the Black Sox punishments came down, the severity was enough to finally get baseball players to cut it out with gamblers, which had been an issue for years. The White Sox were damaged as an organization for a generation: They didn’t win another pennant until 1959.
Now, the Red Sox lost a second-round draft pick and the team owner’s newspaper is printing stories about how their cheating wasn’t that big of a deal. They also may be damaged as an organization, but that would be because the cheapskate owner of one of the richest teams in baseball decided he’d rather trade away his best player than pay him what he’s worth.
Guess which newspaper started the offseason with a hard-hitting piece about Betts not being as good as Red Sox fans thought he was. Or don’t, because you already know.