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ON THE FRONT LINES: Astros' punishment comes up too short

On the Front Lines

How incompetent is MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred? 

If you are a baseball fan, or even a sports fan in general, you may be asking yourself the same question right now. If you have not been following the Astros cheating scandal, you may live in a cave. 

But here is the basic gist of it: The Atlantic reported a bombshell interview on Nov. 12 2019 with Oakland Athletics pitcher (and former Houston Astros pitcher) Mike Fiers, where Fiers confided that the Houston Astros had used video equipment to steal signs from other teams during the 2017 and part of the 2018 seasons. 

The MLB suspended Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow in January for their part in the cheating scandal, and a day later, both were fired by the Astros front office. Ever since, the MLB has been caught in a whirlwind of chaos and controversy that the game has not experienced since the infamous Biogenesis scandal. 

Fans and players alike have voiced their disgust with the League for what many consider a slap on the wrist penalty for the Astros organization. Even more alarming is how quickly the investigation was wrapped up before several important questions were answered, like how far did the cheating actually go? In addition to video equipment, were electronic buzzers used by the Astros players to communicate signs to each other? 

Did the cheating continue beyond the 2017 season? Why are Manfred and the League so reluctant to open the investigation back up? Every day offers a new conspiracy and more controversy, but still the same question: When will the whole truth come out? 

Players around the League have called for Manfred to enforce a much stronger punishment for the Astros organization, with some even calling for the Astros to be stripped of their 2017 World Series title. In a press conference on Sunday, Feb. 16, Manfred addressed these complaints. He said, "I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price.” 

The idea that Astros players have already been punished enough by the black marks to their reputations is a weak excuse, at best, for the lack of an actual discipline. 

His press conference became even more of a disaster when he added, "The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back, seems like a futile act.” Players around the League responded with fury that the MLB Commissioner would minimize the significance of the World Series trophy to just “a piece of metal.” 

Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner responded to Manfred’s comments. “For him to devalue it the way he did (Feb. 16) just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game. At this point the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says 'commissioner' on it," he said.

Even NBA star LeBron James chipped in on the cheating scandal, bashing Manfred in a tweet: “Listen here Baseball Commissioner, listen to your players speaking today about how disgusted, mad, hurt, broken, etc. etc. about this ... you need to fix this for the sake of Sports!”

It is troubling enough that the MLB closed the investigation without enforcing a strong enough penalty for the Astros, but what is even more outrageous is how complacent Manfred seems to be with how they have handled the punishments. What kind of message does it send to the League when the players themselves, the ones who actually took part in the cheating, have gotten off scot-free? 

It is almost laughable how awful Manfred has handled the controversy and completely baffling that he refuses to fix the situation by enacting an actual punishment for the Astros players. In doing so, he has officially taken the reigns from the Astros in becoming the clear villain of the cheating scandal. 

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the cheating scandal is this: The MLB probably will not do the right thing. 

If baseball's checkered past (including the Biogenesis scandal of 2013) proves anything, it is that the League will always try to save face at all costs. Forget punishments and forget the truth: The interests of MLB will always trump those of the players and fans. 

Only time will tell how much more of the truth comes trickling out. If this off-season has been any indication, new information will continue to emerge every day, and there is nothing that MLB or Manfred can do to stop that. The Astros cheating scandal will not go away anytime soon and neither will the indignation that surrounds it. 

We can only hope that Manfred will come to his senses and do the right thing for the players, for the fans and for the integrity of the game. 

Eli Horowitz is the associate video editor at The Daily Targum.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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