In the Don't-Mess-With Texas of yesteryear (and once upon a time in Hollywood), if some tinhorn got caught cheating at a card table, maybe with an ace up his sleeve, he paid for it with some frontier justice. Texans didn't tolerate that kind of thing.
I wonder whether they feel that way in Houston and other parts of the Lone Star State nowadays. I wonder this because I think a whole bunch of cheaters just got caught red-handed. And while some of them have been rounded up, brought to justice and sentenced (so to speak), in my humble opinion -- I think in a lot of folks' opinions -- these bad guys got off way too lightly.
The desperados in question are the Houston Astros, winners of the 2017 World Series, who stand accused of using underhanded means to help them defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first championship in Houston's baseball history.
Trouble is, nobody took away their loot. The championship trophy is still theirs. The banner can still wave. The history books aren't being rewritten. No one from the Dodgers is being given anything by their Major League Baseball partners except a sincere tip of the Stetson and them's-the-breaks, pardner. I can't speak for all the townspeople of L.A., but as far as I'm concerned, their boys got hoodwinked.
The law of Major League Baseball, represented by its commissioner, Rob Manfred, meted out what it believed to be a just punishment.
First, he laid out in detail what the Astros did wrong. (Installed television monitors next to the dugout, stole the other team's secret signals between the pitcher and catcher, banged on trash cans in an attempt to let a batter know what kind of pitch they thought was coming.)
Next, he named a couple of ringleaders among the culprits: Jeff Luhnow, an executive in a suit who was the outfit's general manager, and A.J. Hinch, the field manager who wore the same orange uniform his players did in Los Angeles on the night of Nov. 1, 2017, when the visiting Astros defeated the Dodgers in the seventh and final game of the World Series. He suspended the two men for a full year, whereupon Houston's head honcho, team owner Jim Crane, promptly fired both. According to Manfred, there is no evidence Crane knew about what was going on.
Manfred wasn't done laying down the law. He ordered the Astros to fork over to baseball a fine of $5 million. He also stripped them of high picks in future MLB drafts of upcoming talent. Valuable picks like those had helped Houston mount the very team that took the championship.
What sounds like harsh punishment wasn't much punishment at all.
Two men lost their jobs; management figures in baseball do this all the time. Luhnow and Hinch are the scapegoats. Hinch in particular knew what was being done and didn't prevent it or report it, MLB said. Luhnow denied knowing about the conduct, and according to MLB, there was conflicting evidence about whether he knew, but chose to hold him responsible nonetheless, as the team's general manager.
Another coach, Alex Cora, was identified as a kind of mastermind of the scheme. Cora became the manager of the Boston Red Sox the following season and led them to the championship of the 2018 World Series. He is awaiting a punishment for his Houston actions, expected to be severe. Manfred said he is waiting for an investigation of the 2018 Red Sox to be completed before taking action against Cora, but on Tuesday night, Cora and the team "mutually agreed to part ways," as the Sox put it on Twitter.
And the $5 mil? Big dough, to you and me. Chump change, to baseball. Pocket money. Players you've never heard of make that in a year.
Not a single Houston player, meanwhile, has gotten the heave-ho or lost a red cent. Everybody's free to report back for duty in 2020, either with the Astros or whomever their current employers might be. No suspensions, no recriminations, no accomplishments rescinded, no records corrected, no asterisks next to their stats. Reputations tarnished? Aw, big deal. A home run on Opening Day and the fans in the stands will stand and give them a hand.
Most of the position players on the 2017 team either got sign information or participated in the scheme by helping to decode signs themselves. Many interviewed admitted they knew the scheme was a violation of fair competition and the rules. These bad dudes basically got away with it.
When eight players from the Chicago White Sox stood charged with losing the 1919 World Series on purpose, baseball's commissioner banned them for life. They became infamous as the "Black Sox" for eternity, a smudge never removed from their reputations and names.
Today, quite obviously, Orange is not the new Black Sox.
I don't see one of these orange-bellied Astros getting squeezed. Many of the very same cheaters will be right there in Minute Maid Park next season, signing autographs, posing for selfies. The diamond-studded rings on their fingers or in their safety deposit boxes will still have "2017 World Series Champions" etched into them, forever and ever.
Baseball is not dirt-free. Steroids, spitballs and corked bats have been utilized by players to unfair advantage. Punishments remain uneven. Pete Rose, who got more hits than anybody in MLB history, continues to serve a lifetime ban for having gambled on the outcomes of 20th century games while still in uniform. Alex Rodriguez, a confessed user of performance-enhancing drugs, remains a popular public figure and a baseball broadcast personality.
I wish the game would play fair.
Houston isn't getting away with murder, but most of their position players are definitely getting away with fraud.
What a sham this once-proud organization has become. It was bad enough that one Astros player hit a home run in the 2017 World Series against pitcher Yu Darvish of the Dodgers, then was caught by cameras in the dugout making a vulgar gesture at the Japanese pitcher, tugging at the sides of his eyes.
It was bad enough that an Astros assistant general manager got fired during the 2019 World Series for screaming profanely at a woman in the locker room, which his own boss denied until eyewitnesses attested to it.
Cheating to win, though, whoa. How low can you go?
I bet there are baseball fans from Houston who don't care what their boys did. They remain good guys in those folks' eyes.
But I bet there are still plenty of Texans to whom honor and decency and fair play are ideals to be proud of, ways they always want their sons and daughters to respect. I bet quite a few of these folks are ashamed of what those 2017 Houston Astros pulled.
Justifiably so. The bad guys won.