Thursday, February 13, 2020

Quote of the Day (Thomas Boswell, on the Danger Posed by Baseball's Cheating Scandal)

“A country can be endangered by a diminishing of national integrity, whether in individual leaders, entire parties or the collective character of its citizens. But great nations tend to heal with time. Sports, even the once national pastime, are far more fragile. They can lose favor, seem corrupt or degraded, become places where the despondent or the addicted gather and customers seem like marks. Boxing and horse racing shriveled within a lifetime.”—Columnist Thomas Boswell, “Baseball Has a Problem, and the Astros are Only a Symptom,” The Washington Post, Feb. 10, 2020

Boswell urges that baseball must find a way to avoid a work stoppage that could further alienate fans. But the real cause of his anxiety for the game is the grave damage caused by the Houston Astros sign-cheating scandal.

With each passing wake, the course of this moral morass bids to become baseball’s answer to Watergate. 

To start with, different media outlets are now competing to break another aspect of the case:

* Last weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported that then-Astros GM Jeff Luhnow received a memo from the team’s tech unit titled intriguingly “Codebreaker” as early as 2016. 

*This week, The Washington Post disclosed that it was an open secret in major league baseball about the Astros’ skullduggery, with “10 to 12 teams” complaining, to no avail, to commissioner Rob Manfred over the years.

*That revelation was followed immediately by another in The Athletic that iconic veteran Carlos Beltran, considered “The Godfather” of the Astros clubhouse, had pushed the scheme most aggressively—perhaps accounting for the fact that he was the only player named in Manfred’s report on the scandal last month.

I’m afraid that even the current attempts by Manfred and three teams (the Astros, the Red Sox, and the Mets, with the last two having removed two men they had hired as managers) to staunch this self-inflicted wound will be of no avail. 

First, as so many have noted, no current major leaguers who had been on the 2017 World Series Astros team has been punished. 

Second, most current members of the Astros have gone into a cone of silence regarding their complicity and even their feelings about what happened. Americans can be an infinitely forgiving people, but contrition and transparency must be apparent first. At the start of spring training today, stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve finally made a stab toward the "contrition" part by saying they were sorry about their “choices,” but their "transparency" remains a work in progress, since they weren’t specific about their offenses. I’m afraid they can expect very hostile receptions at rival ballparks for the rest of the season.

Third, speaking of Altuve, suspicions remain widespread about whether he was wearing a buzzer concealed underneath his jersey warning him which type of pitch to expect when he belted a home run off New York Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman this past October. If those suspicions are not laid to rest—and how can they be at this late stage?—they will haunt the star for the rest of the year—perhaps beyond.

This kind of corrosive mistrust may put baseball, as Boswell dreads, in the same league as boxing and horse racing—morally suspect and increasingly out of the conversation about the great American sports.

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