On Tuesday, we looked at the immediate implications of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Should their punishment have been harsher? But there are also bigger implications, for the sport as a whole. So let’s look at what this might mean going forward: for the game, the commissioner, and baseball history....
What will the long-term impact of this be?
Charlie: Cynically, I think this will be used by owners to try to divide the MLBPA during the next round of CBA negotiations. (Enjoy the upcoming lockout!) Teams will probably lay low for awhile, but I imagine they’ll come up with something to skirt the rules for a competitive and cheap advantage sometime soon. If Manfred’s job was to grow and protect the game, his head would have rolled already for not nipping this in the bud back when everyone (allegedly) found out about it in ‘17 and ‘18. As his job is to be a front and a shield for the owners, he’s fine.
For baseball, this harkens back to the PED scandal. It seems everyone knew it was happening, but the leadership in MLB was willing to keep it quiet to avoid making waves. It took Ken Caminitti and Jose Canseco to start talking publically for them to do something, but the cat was out of the bag by then. It seems like a mirror image with this. It took Mike Fiers talking to The Athletic to get anyone to investigate or do anything. It shows a reactive way of thinking in both cases and in both cases the sport’s credibility suffered a lot of unnecessary damage. I think exacerbating it is that social media is now A Thing and players have outlets to voice their frustrations and post pictures of guys in uniforms with circles over things that could be wires.
Jack: Baseball seems to have a unique ability to cannibalize its own product. This is going to hurt, and turn off some fans. But in the end it’s not going to kill the sport or anything like that.
Keegan: I still feel that the NFL has a more bleak future than the MLB. If anything, this is another skid mark on Rob Manfred’s already soiled underwear. It adds to the cumulative effect of his inability to lead the league in a positive direction. Consistent lies about altered baseballs. An inability to attract new fans. The impending labor dispute. Not a successful run.
Turambar: Unknown. It’ll hurt the sport in the short term, but won’t kill it. MLB has been treading water in the popularity front for a while, and will continue to do so under Manfred’s questionable guidance. This is just another speed bump on MLB’s slow and wobbly trek through the sports universe.
Dano: Strangely, perhaps, this wound up being the hardest question of the lot for me to answer. It’s the one I have had to think about the most, anyway, and come up with an answer for.
In terms of Manfred, like many of my colleagues here, I predict that it won’t reflect well on him, and will help to cement his legacy as a pretty crappy and undistinguished MLB commissioner. Sign-stealing is not news, and hasn’t been for a couple of years now, and yet it’s all the news right now because he and his people didn’t acknowledge or address it until they were forced to, , and that in itself reflects badly on him and on his “leadership” of the league.
In terms of the effect on players, teams, and the effect on baseball in general (which I understand as the effect on fandom and the broader regard in which the game is held), I hate to say it but I suspect that nobody beyond die-hard baseball fans are going to care all that much, aside from being vaguely aware that the sport seems kind of shady at this level, and that isn’t going to surprise anyone, really, and it’s going to make MLB that much easier to dismiss and not take seriously. They do drugs. They steal signs. They cheat. End of story.
Part of the mythology of baseball is that it’s an American institution, and like a lot of American institutions in recent years, it has been undergoing a slow process of degradation in the public eye, and this whole business will contribute to that.
PED Scandal--->Owner Collusion (“Alleged”) to Undermine Free Agency--->Organized and Technologically Augmented Sign Stealing...the causes and validity of each of these can be argued, but for the more casual baseball-observing public, it makes a neat and broadly uninterrupted ongoing narrative of institutional degradation.
James: If baseball gets its act together and can create a convincing narrative that the cheating has been stamped out, it will survive this. As for player legacies, that remains to be determined. I think there are some, like Justin Verlander, who will survive it just fine. First, he is a pitcher, not a hitter. Second, he put together a stunning Hall of Fame resume in Detroit, before he ever showed up in Houston. It’s the hitters that are going to have to do some reputation re-building. Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are going to have to have a strong 2020 season in order to silence many of their new doubters
As for Manfred’s legacy, well, his legacy was already heading in the wrong direction to begin with. I would not be shocked if it takes another hit with the upcoming CBA. This scandal though, it was one that could have been avoided by a progressive Commissioner’s Office. Manfred has been so hung up on other trivialities that he didn’t bother to address something that was clearly going on before the 2017 season. Circulating one or two memos and expecting that to change what has become part of the culture of baseball was not the way to handle this situation. The league wants to mess with the concept of robo-umps, but it hasn’t looked into electronic signs? That seems a bit lazy.
Makakilo: The long term impact depends on two things:
- A quick end to electronic sign stealing.
- Awareness of the perceptions of fans, players, and managers - leading to effective post-crisis communications/actions by Manfred and baseball.
Either Manfred’s legacy will be he addressed this crisis in-a-way that strengthened baseball, OR he addressed this crisis in-a-way that weakened baseball. Fate is on his side.
Wesley: I don’t know As of right now, I think the punishment should have been much more severe, and this makes the game look bad. It is a really bad look for a League to have a recent champion and contender be a proven cheater, and it looks even worse when they are barely punished. If MLB handles this a little better going forward, and shows that they have stamped out the cheating, then I think MLB will be fine.
Jim: It’s really impossible to say. It will certainly tarnish the Astros and their reputation, and I don’t think the way Manfred has handled this to day will do him any favors. But I get the feeling that in ten years time, we’ll look back and be slightly amused at all the fuss.
Where does this rank in the history of baseball scandals?
Charlie: We’ll have to find out the scope of it all, not just what MLB wanted to release, to figure that out.. However, no other baseball scandal to date has “Someone pretending to be Carlos Beltran’s niece on Twitter accuses two All-Stars of wearing a wire.” so it’s definitely one of the more wild ones.
- Banning players of color: Much like everything else in our country, this part of the history of the game can never be washed away and the scars have yet to heal. There is a great series of articles on the Library of Congress website, Baseball, the Color Line, and Jackie Robinson .
- Black Sox Gambling scandal: While Gambling in the sport by those involved in the games was rampant before the 1919, reaching the apex of the sport like it did would have killed it had it not been dealt with in such a public and harsh manner. Perhaps it’s ironic that the man that saved the game, Judge Landis, was somewhat central in it’s even greater scandal mentioned in point 1.
- PED scandal: As of right now, this still ranks #3. The shockwaves will still be felt well beyond the next dozen HOF ballots and into the veterans committees that are convened well after I’m dead.
- The Pittsburgh Cocaine Trials and this current Sign Stealing Scandal will vie for the #4 spot. But personally I’d put this current scandal as #4 right now. Whether it ever ascends up to #3 is TBD. But I doubt it.
Keegan: Still find it relatively minor compared to past transgressions. I feel that it is easily preventable with simple solutions. Sign stealing has been around in a “legal” manner for a very long time. I’d imagine the method the Astros were using was actually highly distracting. It’s not like the human brain has enough time to register and interpret the signal forecasting the upcoming pitch and then act on that information before it’s too late.
Turambar: Nothing could or should ever eclipses the Black Sox scandal.
Dano: I’m with Turambar on this one. Well said.
Beyond that, I think it ranks below the PED scandal, simply because it’s happened more recently and because it serves to add to cynicism among fans about cheating being the way the game is played, for many fans. With the PED thing, I think a lot of folks responded along the lines of “Well, yeah, of course.” Sign-stealing just compounds that response, along the lines of “If they were going to do the other thing, well, of course they would do this thing as well.”
Makakilo: Electronic sign stealing ranks about equal to the PED scandal for three reasons:
- Electronic sign stealing had more lack-of-respect for the rules of baseball.
- Electronic sign stealing had a bigger injustice to specific players (it unfairly damaged/ended the careers of some pitchers).
- Electronic sign stealing has less Impact on fan perception of baseball. Likely, fans perceive only one or two teams cheated compared to use of PEDs on many teams.
James: This probably ranks fourth or fifth for me. Some of the bigger scandals/black eyes the game has received over the years happened well before my time, so it is difficult for me to judge the impact. The intellect in me says fourth or fifth feels about right though.
Steven: It’s a black mark, but it’ll be long forgotten in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully it makes the game better in the long run.
Wesley: I’m with Jack on this one, with the exception that I’d put Pete Rose’s gambling scandal ahead of this one as well. I agree with Steven as well, in that this scandal will be forgotten in the long run, unless it’s proven that the cheating is even more widespread than known right now.
Jim: As my answer above hints, I think we’ll probably look back and consider it all something of a 7-day wonder. Well below PEDs or the Black Sox scandal, I’d certainly say. But, of course, its final position will depend on whether more information about further culprits comes out.
[Steven: And because there’s usually a completely non-baseball-related question at the end of these, and there isn’t this week, I’m gonna add one.]
What is, at the end of the day, the very best animal?
Dano: The turtle, obviously. It lives a long time, it moves slowly and ponderously, yet thoughtfully; it carries its home on its back, and it is very well-armored.
Makakilo: Cats. They are great companions who like to purr, play, and eat. When their human is busy, they happily entertain themselves. They like to explore as much as they like to sleep. Their behavior is delightfully entertaining and sometimes mysterious beyond explanation.
James: The one that helps calm you and leeches away some of the anxieties of life - whatever one that may be.
Wesley: I’m going to go with Humans. We’re amazing animals, that are very, very, very strange. All of our domesticated pals are pretty cool though too