Nick Knacks

Column: Baseball is in the Headlines — But Not Because Spring Training is Here

Drew Tarvin | FlickrThe Houston Astros were found to be stealing signs at Minute Maid Park in 2017.

After one of the more interesting offseasons in recent memory, baseball finally returns to our TVs this weekend.

Well, unless you’re a Cubs fan and your TV provider doesn’t have the new Marquee Sports Network. Then you can turn on the radio to listen to Cubs games.

But as Spring Training starts Feb. 22, we’ve heard a lot of baseball talk on the radio the last few weeks — and it’s not for good reason.

In November, The Athletic reported the Houston Astros used video cameras to steal signs during the 2017 season when they won the World Series. The report also said they’d bang on trash cans to signal an off-speed pitch, which allowed some teams to pick up on the system.

That prompted a Major League Baseball (MLB) investigation and the eventual suspensions of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. After MLB announced the suspensions, Astros owner Jim Crane fired them for their roles in the scandal. 

The fallout has been staggering. People are calling for the Astros to be stripped of their World Series title. Opposing players have called the scandal a “disgrace” and saying “every single guy over there needs a beating.” 

Let’s put it this way. If you have Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant — who’s probably the nicest guy in the league — calling you out, you’ve messed up.

The Astros haven’t been helping their case. Their half-assed apology Feb. 13 dug themselves a deeper hole. Shortstop Carlos Correa raised eyebrows when he defended their two star players — second baseman Jose Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman. 

It seems like the more we hear about this, the worse it gets.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t doing his part, either. In a recent interview, he called the World Series trophy “a piece of metal,” which prompted swift response across the league, and threatened serious punishments if pitchers intentionally throw at Astros hitters. He also said they used the system during the postseason, which basically fanned the flames even more.

“If you have Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant — who’s probably the nicest guy in the league — calling you out, you’ve messed up.”

Nick Schultz, sports editor

The biggest problem with Manfred’s statements is he’s promising harsher penalties for pitchers who intentionally throw at Astros hitters than he gave the Astros for blatantly cheating. It further proves he’s not handling this situation well at all.

This is a more serious scandal than the casual fan thinks. Using technology to steal signs is way too far, and MLB added a rule about it in 2019. Picking up the other team’s signs by just watching them and they’re not hiding them well, that’s not cheating. There’s no specific rule against that.

Take it from someone who would sit on the end of the bench and pick up the other team’s signs in high school. It’s not easy. If you can do that, more power to you.

But this scandal also further proves why Manfred isn’t the right guy to lead MLB. Not only does he sound out of touch when he calls the World Series trophy a “piece of metal,” but he’s in way over his head with this whole thing. Sure, he suspended the manager and general manager, but granting the players immunity might’ve been a mistake. After all, they’re the ones who cheated.

It’s been a rough few months for baseball. But it seems like this situation only gets worse the more we hear about it. It’s a shame, too, because Spring Training is usually a time for baseball fans to be in the spotlight for good reasons.

Instead, we’re talking about how our favorite teams can get back at Houston for cheating their way to a title. It’s sad to see because it was such a good story that season.

The Astros are set to come to Chicago in June for a three-game series against the White Sox. It’ll be interesting to see how the Chicago faithful greet them.

The season can’t start soon enough.

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