The Houston Astros cheating scandal; do you trust MLB to handle it?

The people who run baseball have a lousy track record...

If you’re a baseball fan you probably already know the Houston Astros have been accused of cheating during the 2019 postseason. And you probably also know MLB has assured us that they’ll look into it.

But do you trust the people who run Major League Baseball?

Before you answer, take a look at this: more than a year ago Bleacher Report had a story about the Astros cheating in the 2017 and 2018 postseason. Here’s a link to that story:

Back then the Astros were accused of having people in the stands with cameras to steal signs (remarkably similar to what they’re currently accused of doing), but the Astros had an excuse; those people were just making sure other teams weren’t cheating and at least publicly, MLB bought it.

Here’s what MLB said at the time:

"A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure the opposing club was not violating any rules.”

So if you got caught in a bank at midnight with a crowbar and some dynamite and told MLB you were only there to make sure nobody else was robbing the bank MLB might buy that too…assuming you promised to share some of the loot from that bank you didn’t rob.  

MLB likes to talk about doing things for the good of the game and what that actually seems to mean is doing things for the good of the game’s owners.

Stripping the Astros of their 2017 World Series title would have caused a lot of PR problems so it appears MLB turned a blind eye and it also appears the Astros kept right on cheating.

And it’s not just sign stealing

A number of people (and that includes me) have questioned the accuracy of advanced metrics like WAR and UZR. If you look at how those numbers are calculated you’ll find some guesswork, unwarranted assumptions and disclaimers about their accuracy. Advocates of those metrics would say they may not be perfect, but they’re still the best we have.

Enter TrackMan.

Once stadiums started using that ball-tracking system, people started saying now we know for sure; it’s science!

But in the same 2018 Bleacher Report article the Astros were accused of not calibrating their TrackMan system correctly, particularly at the minor league levels.

If the accusation is accurate the Astros could make one of their minor league players appear to be worth more or less by adjusting numbers like spin rate. And if they can do that you can’t trust those numbers either.

There’s been a debate between the “eyes guys” and “numbers guys” in baseball, but it’s not either/or: you need both. The eyes guys check on what the numbers guys come up with and the numbers guys do the same for the guys watching games.

And if the Houston Astros or any other team can fake the numbers, you need those eyes guys more than ever.

MLB’s lousy track record

The people who run baseball are hoping we all lose interest in the cheating scandal and find something else to talk about, but there are people within the game that think baseball is now facing its biggest crisis since PEDs.

And how did MLB handle that?

Just in case you need a reminder, here’s a 2007 Denver Post timeline of the steroids scandal:

Here’s the short version:

For years everybody knew something fishy was going on, but MLB didn’t do anything serious about it until they were forced to by outside pressure. As long as home runs were putting butts in the seats the people who ran baseball didn’t seem to care that those home run hitters were cheating.

But back then big league attendance was on its way up and since 2012 attendance has been headed the other direction.

Big league baseball is in trouble; analytics has added a lot to the game, but made the games longer and let’s face it, way more boring. Add in home entertainment systems that make watching the games on TV a much better option than it used to be — nobody charges you for parking or $10 for a beer — and fewer people are showing up at the ballpark.

Now throw in MLB’s plan to kick 42 minor-league cities in the teeth by eliminating their teams and see what that does to fan interest across the country.

Pete Rose got a permanent ban from baseball for betting on his own team and Commissioner Rob Manfred refused to lift that ban because it might “jeopardize the integrity of the game.”

Assuming there’s not two sets of rules – one for guys who wear uniforms to work and another for guys who wear suits and ties (insert laugh here) – what will MLB do if they find out a GM was overseeing and condoning team-wide cheating?  

If the public’s general impression is that teams are allowed to cheat and MLB isn’t cracking down on it, that ain’t gonna help.

So it’s up to people like me and you to keep writing, commenting and caring about this issue because I’m not sure the people who run the game we love will do the same.