Another year, another Major League Baseball scandal. Cheating continue to plague America’s pastime.
Like clockwork, the league is quick to get ahead of the scandal, talking about preserving the “integrity of the game,” but is there still integrity in the game of baseball? For a sport that is so dependent on protecting its ideals of image and integrity, no sport has been so laden with constant scandal and people trying to gain a competitive advantage.
In fact, you can go to Wikipedia and find an entire page dedicated to scandals in baseball. They go all the way back to the infamous “Eight Men Out” 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal, to the new Houston Astros sign stealing scandal of 2019. 100 years of history means cheating is as ingrained to baseball as white is to rice. But why does it seem like baseball has more cheating than the other four major sports?
It starts with the “unwritten rules” of baseball. The late, great catcher Joe Garigiola Sr. once said it plainly, “Baseball is a game played by human beings and governed by unwritten laws of survival and self-preservation.”
Baseball is a game of individuals, and survival means taking any and all advantages to succeed. Unwritten rules include a lot of different beliefs about not showing up a pitcher after a home run, or no bunting when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter. Simple lessons on etiquette players are expected to follow.
You know what isn’t mentioned? Cheating.
From gambling to drugs to pine tar to sign stealing. There hasn’t been a decade without a baseball scandal.
It’s been well known in baseball circles that players will put extra pine tar on their bat to hit the ball further, or a pitcher may place rosin on his hat to allow his pitches to break more. There is no inspection for these maneuvers, unless a manager complains. Otherwise, a player can get away with cheating all the time.
The steroid era is the constant black mark in baseball’s history. Seemingly a large amount of baseball players through the 1990s and 2000s (some would argue the majority of professional players), were taking performance enhancing drugs. Many home run records were broken, and nobody talked about it for nearly two decades.
That brings us to the Houston Astros. Alex Cora, an assistant coach for the Houston Astros, who then became the manager of the Boston Red Sox, is thought to be the mastermind behind the intricate sign stealing methods used by the Astros, and potentially even the Red Sox.
The Astros used the instant replay in center field to get the signals of the opposing team’s catcher, and have a system that allowed the signal to be passed to the dugout, who would then signal hitter at the plate to what pitch was coming.
Its hit a level of conspiracy theory that involves Astros hitters wearing buzzers on their chest to signal offspeed pitches. While no team has seemingly taken sign stealing to this level, it has been apart of the game for decades. Players would stand at second base and signal to the hitter what pitch was coming next, and for years this went unchecked.
It’s a bad look for the Astros, and the home and away splits, the batting average hit at home, when they had the video scandal, and on the road, without assistance, for their players are pretty damning. During the 2017 World Series, when the Astros were suspected of cheating against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Here are the home and away splits during that series:
Jose Altuve – Home: .472 Away: .143
Brian McCann – Home: .300 Away: .037
Carlos Correa – Home: .371 Away .211
These paint the picture of a definitive home field advantage. Whether it involved buzzers or not.
But baseball hasn’t changed, and it’s just as much a part of the game as everything we love about it as well.
Written by Kyle Grondin, Sports Editor. Photo courtesy of Keith Allison