Student journalist Zach Short weighs in on the possibility of violent retaliation in the MLB.
Coming off the recent explosion of news regarding the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, much of the baseball world wonders how the disgraced team will fare in the hands of vigilante justice — that is, in a court of their peers. Baseball fans and curious onlookers alike have intrigued themselves with the possibility of a surge in hit-by-pitch (HBP) numbers for the Astros’ roster. While the numbers in spring training have actually appeared to show that a populist revolt against cheating will not occur, that has not stopped any speculation.
ESPN writer David Schoenfield draws attention to the fact that, despite seven Astros taking a hit in spring training so far, only two actually have any connection to the scandal, and even they were hit with breaking balls. Regardless of this, CBS sports has published betting odds for the number of HBPs the Astros receive this year, as produced by the bookmaker William Hill. The numbers place the over/under betting point at 83.5 HBPs, a number only nine teams have surpassed in the previous five seasons, and the most likely number range (in increments of 10) as 81-90 HBPs at three to one odds. Currently, the record for most HBPs stands at 103 for the 2008 Cleveland Indians. To compare these numbers with last year, the Astros were only hit 41 times in the 2019 regular season — 15 below the MLB average.
Outside of formal betting, other modes of interest have sprung about. There are currently Twitter accounts appearing rapidly that promise to track the Astros’ woes throughout the season, and public interest shows like “Today” have discussed the potential of an HBP-riddled season for the Texas team. While analysts like Schoenfield suggest the excitement will subside shortly after opening day (March 26), the surrounding hype seems determined that a very interesting season awaits. Astros manager Dusty Baker has already appealed to the MLB office to set in place protections for his players, but given the seemingly lax sanctions placed against the Astros, a move to protect the offenders might result in greater controversy than the players just getting thumped most days.
However, the expectations may alter the course of the 2020 season on their own without the assistance of an unstated common vendetta by players who feel cheated. Releasing betting odds and frequently publishing stories on the prospects of a painful season for Houston may force league action. After all, player safety is a league responsibility and, should any Astro find himself able to legitimately claim targeting and perhaps an injury, a lawsuit may land on the doorstep of the MLB’s highest executives. With all the popular discussion, the MLB may have no choice but to protect the perpetrators of what now looks like the biggest baseball cheating scandal of the 21st Century.
Currently though, it remains ambiguous at best as to whether or not players across the league will actually give any truth to the rumors. The distinct possibility that most teams are content with turning the other cheek has yet to die, and more radical conspiracies even suggest a common desire among professional players to just let the story die, as many more cheating operations may lurk just beyond public perception. Regardless of those possibilities, if ever there were a movement to exact revenge upon the Astros, the widespread speculation may force players to reconsider their slight attacks and just play baseball.