Over the past few years, The Houston Astros have been a team full of cheaters. For three years, the team management used cameras to record signs from the opposing teams’ pitchers and shared them with their players, a prohibited move known as sign-stealing. This behavior continued into the postseason and the Astros won the World Series in 2017 while continuing to use these methods. 

The team tried to address the issue in a press conference from hell. The teams owner, Jim Crane, apologized with all the sincerity of a 6-year-old caught with his hand in a cookie jar. Crane claimed during the same press conference both that he didn’t know if the sign-stealing impacted the game and also the sign-stealing didn’t impact the game. Crane is a lot of things, but he isn’t this stupid, though his comments at the conference suggest that he feels the average viewer is. Why would a team cheat? To win, obviously. And if they do cheat, it clearly will impact the game.

Major League Baseball finished investigating the case in January 2020 and decided to punish the team. The punishment included a $5-million fine and a loss of four draft picks, as well as the suspension of team executive Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for the 2020 season. Crane later fired both Luhnow and Hinch. However, not a single player was fined or suspended despite the fact that the players knew about the scheme and actively participated in it.

This is bizarre when considering the case of Pete Rose. Rose is the all-time hits leader in MLB and is, by any fair measure, one of the greatest to ever play the game. Rose played for the Cincinnati Reds from 1963 to 1978 and then managed the team from 1984 to 1986. During his time as manager, he gambled on the Reds to win. He was later banned from the game and thus the Hall of Fame when his betting became known to MLB leadership. In 2015, Rose applied for reinstatement to the League, which MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred declined the request on the grounds that Rose presented a risk “to the integrity of our sport.

Whether or not Rose betting on his team was ethical is not the point, but it is laughable to argue that Rose’s behavior is deserving of a ban while that of the Astros is deserving of a slap on the wrist. For some reason, one of these instances threatened the integrity of the game and the other didn’t. And finesse and draft picks are no punishment at all. 

While cheating over the past three years, the Astros have won the American League West Division title every year, the American League Championship Series two years out of three and the World Series once. Though it is impossible to prove they would have lost without the assistance, they clearly thought they needed it to win. Manfred suggesting this didn’t violate the integrity of the game is incredible and there’s no way even he believes the nonsense he’s hawking. Again, if people cheat, they do it to win and that will violate the integrity of the sport in and of itself.

In addition, Manfred suggested that a lack of contrition on the part of Rose was part of the reason for Rose’s continued suspension. How does this square with the Astros Justin Verlander, who currently pitches for the Astros, had no problem sharing his opinions on how MLB players want a “clean game” after Dee Gordon, then a player for the Miami Marlins, was busted using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Yet for some reason, the self-appointed czar of cleanliness was unable to significantly grapple with the Astros’ obvious cheating. Verlander claims to have been opposed to the sign-stealing, yet he was unwilling to put his words into action because talk is cheap. His complete hypocrisy about “clean games” suggests the only thing he has ever said that is worth listening to was “I do” to Kate Upton, a woman far more successful than him (who didn’t cheat to get where she is).

Rose was punished because he violated the game. He was meant to act with integrity and he didn’t. However, integrity is a funny thing because either it matters or it doesn’t. There cannot be one set of rules for Rose and another for the team that cheated their way to the top. Since Commissioner Manfred has decided that the Astros behavior is acceptable, there is no reason Rose should be treated any differently.

Anik Joshi can be reached at anikj@umich.edu.

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