Student writer Zach Short details the scandal rocking the MLB, how it happened, whom it involves and what he thinks of the whole affair.
In November, just after the Houston Astros lost to the Washington Nationals in the World Series, the professional baseball universe was upended when Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers went on record to spell out an advanced sign-stealing operation in the Astros’ organization. Fiers, who played for the Astros in 2017 when the sign-stealing allegedly began, said that the Astros had been using technology to steal opponents’ signs (highly illegal in the MLB) and that some of their recent brilliant success was result of that. An investigation from the MLB that quickly followed concluded that the allegations from Fiers were truthful, and the Astros were consequently stripped of top round draft picks for the upcoming years.
How They Did It
The genius of the operation was the lack thereof. In the growing prominence of instant replay, the Astros set a camera in centerfield that was set to see the signs coming from the catcher. In the watch room, established to assist coaches in knowing whether or not to challenge a call, viewers would carefully watch signs and the pitches that followed so as to uncover the meaning of the signs. The decoded meanings would then be shared from teammate to teammate. As the operation grew in success, the team became more daring, and a television was placed in the Astros dugout with a game stream so that players could watch signs from the dugout. Supposedly, players would bang a bat against a rubber barrel, common items and sounds from a dugout, to signal to the batter what pitch to expect.
How People Feel About the Whistleblower
Fiers let loose a floodgate of national coverage that led to a slew of suspensions, resignations and terminations. Some of the more notable among those being former Astros player Carlos Beltran, who stepped down from his role as the new manager for the New York Mets, and former Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who parted ways as manager of the Red Sox through a mutual agreement. However, the man responsible for inciting the exposition of a potentially league-wide scandal has not been met with resounding applause. Multiple Astros players have anonymously shared their displeasure with his actions, but one of the most prominent people to openly criticize Fiers was baseball Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez, who suggested that “whatever happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse” and that, if he really was uncomfortable with the sign-stealing, he should have made his thoughts known to the organization privately while he was still a part of the team. Martinez also said that if the exposé had occurred while Fiers was a player that it may have shown some “guts,” but that for it to happen after Fiers departure from the organization makes Fiers “just a bad teammate.”
While the issue is not subsided yet, repercussions have already begun to circulate around the league. There is, of course, the aforementioned loss of draft picks, which includes the loss of first and second round picks for the 2020 and 2021 drafts, in addition to the departures of many involved. In addition, the Los Angeles City Council voted to request that the 2017 and 2018 World Series titles be stripped from the recipients and be awarded to the Dodgers instead. While that may seem potentially extreme, it actually makes a fair amount of sense given that the Astros took the title from the Dodgers in 2017 and Red Sox did the same in 2018. Reminder, the Red Sox manager for the 2018 season was Alex Cora, who served as a bench coach for the Astros the year before and is believed to have utilized some of the same methods after his transition to Boston.
Personal Thoughts (Opinion)
Stressing the severity of the issue, I attempted to write what I have here in an objective tone, devoid of the usual potentially biased flair that I reserve for sports writing. However, this is an issue in which I am deeply opinionated and I feel that it may be productive to let my own sentiment toward the issue at hand be known, while still keeping it separate from the bulk of the article to maintain a level of professionalism.
First, it is hard to say that any punishment be too extreme. Obviously, the death penalty may be overreaching, and there are certainly other steps before that one that would be considered too much, but I have to hear of any suggested course of punitive action that I found to be overly harsh. It is surely no coincidence that the Astros had great success while cheating, and it is hard to believe that the Red Sox championship season did not benefit either. It would be different if the perpetrators went from the bottoms of their divisions to the middle or simply were able to make the postseason as opposed to missing it, but the people here went all the way. The only place I may stop myself here is in the awarding of the victory to the Dodgers. As far as precedent goes, I could only find the NCAA scandal with Rick Pitino and Louisville. In that example, their accomplishments had to be vacated, but nothing was awarded to teams that lost to them as the whole path they took to win stopped multiple potential champions. I find nothing wrong in using the same course of action here.
Second, I do not demonize the actions of Mike Fiers. To suggest that he should have spoken up as a player of the Astros and kept the issue a clubhouse matter is, to me, an opinion of ignorance, and it is there where I vehemently disagree with the rant made by Pedro Martinez. It is idealistic to expect everyone to speak up instantly when something wrong is happening.
There are factors left mostly unmentioned, such as the ire of an entire team benefiting from the operation and the potential ostracization from baseball entirely, that could have easily played into Fiers’s decision to wait to talk about the organization. Additionally, the idea that all problems, even ones as big as a giant cheating scandal where everyone involved is aware that they are making illegal moves, should be handled internally is ridiculous. If there is an ongoing fight between players, maybe handle it internally. If there is a cancerous tolerance of destroying the integrity of the sport spreading across the organization, blow it up; not everything can be solved in the clubhouse. To compare the situation to another notorious whistleblower, imagine telling Edward Snowden to handle the situation internally.
And as for the time he waited to go to the press, I cannot blame him for waiting to be out of the Astros to do so. They were his employer, and it makes sense that it would be more comfortable to wait.
Therefore, to Pedro Martinez, I say grow up; we do not live in a world where everyone is comfortable accusing their employer of widespread and condoned malpractice. It is a lot easier to say all these idealistic statements as a retired Hall-of-Famer.