ESSAY: With Astros ruling, MLB is prioritizing the game over everything else. Shouldn’t we, the fans, demand more?

These are the 5 people named in the 2017 sign-stealing scheme.
These are the 5 people named in the 2017 sign-stealing scheme. (Getty Images)

HOUSTON – Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros have spoken -- former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow now face some of the stiffest penalties ever doled out in professional sports. Much has already been written on the subject but comparing the equality of penalties is something that’s been bothering me since the suspensions and firings were announced.

Hinch and Luhnow will forever have their earning potential, reputations and careers impacted -- and in fact, stained -- as a result of their decisions to alter the game of baseball.

Similar penalties have been levied in cases like Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose who accepted a settlement in 1989 that included a lifetime ban from the game after betting on baseball. And then there are the Black Sox who faced a lifetime ban for betting on their own team in the World Series.

MLB, the teams, the owners and all the powers-that-be seem to say with each case that the game is sacred, but when it comes to penalties that address off-the-field non-baseball misdeeds, punishment is more flexible. Second chances abound in cases that have more of a human cost than something like sign stealing. And those in power seems to just be fine with that.

Domestic violence and sexism

Perhaps the most glaring examples are those who have addressed players and executives in recent cases of suspected domestic violence and overt sexism.

While pitching for the Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna was suspended for 75 games after allegations that he violated the MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. The entire issue was hushed up when he decided to decline appeal and do a treatment program.

At the time the punishment was sent out, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said, "Let everything go through its course. You knew something was coming down. ... Hopefully that all gets worked out, both sides, and everybody gets the help they need and everything works out fine for all involved."

Paging Pollyanna. Paging Pollyanna.

But does it all work out? Really? Did it all work out for the victim? We have no way of really knowing because the alleged victim didn’t speak. I’m not pointing fingers at the alleged victim here -- never that. Who would want to face all of that scrutiny, particularly in the wake of something potentially traumatic? There was no resolution and details were scarce. We still don’t have any account of what happened -- just an assertion from MLB that some rule, in some way, was broken. When will someone with power over the sport say that’s not right, that’s not OK and it needs to stop through full transparency? Did #Metoo not happen where hot dogs and beer mingle with a diamond on a field?

Soon -- perhaps way too soon for many -- Osuna found his way to the mound again -- ripping balls across home plate for the Astros. There was celebration in the blinding amnesia of Astros supremacy again behind the plate.

A similar outcome came for Jose Torres of the San Diego Padres after he too violated MLB’s domestic abuse policy in 2018. He only got a 100-game suspension after he received an indictment that charged him with assault with a deadly weapon, criminal damage and intimidation stemming from an incident at a home he shared with a woman.

And what about Brandon Taubman, the former Astros assistant general manager who was fired during last year’s playoffs for an expletive-filled tirade aimed at female reporters? The fight had to be taken to the ball club before the Astros sluggishly moved into action. It was not until Monday that Taubman’s penalty was announced: though he will be ineligible to work for any Major League Baseball club through the day after the 2020 season ends, he can still come back and apply for reinstatement.

Drugs and performance enhancement

Penalties that address the athletes’ own bodies straddle the line between career-ending and a second chance.

Former Astros player Miguel Tejada was suspended 105 games without pay after testing positive for amphetamines in 2013. At the time it was called a potentially career-ending decision.

Alex Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season for performance-enhancing drug use. It was the largest penalty for that type of infraction.

Baseball is sacred

The message MLB and teams like the Astros are perpetuating is that fans want -- or at least will endure -- the bad boy on the field as long as he keeps it under control for most of the season. In the case of the Astros, it seems it doesn’t matter, really, if the players were complicit, as long as the two-headed snake’s head at the helm (Luhnow and Hinch) is severed because that’s enough. Keep the gladiators performing no matter what. They’re humans with an expiration date. The cost is not all that great -- at least for now. The important thing is to keep the Colosseum standing.

But I argue for a higher human standard. Keep the best people around, rip down the decay and build something better back up. The traditions of a great game are built on those who love it and honor it, from the fans in the stands to the players on the field and those manning the front office. Baseball at its best is when it’s alive with human fervor -- not some dusty ball in a case that’s only as good as the reputation of the person who signed it.

The game of baseball is sacred. That’s the enduring message from the MLB and the teams. But shouldn’t we, the fans, demand more? Penalties in cases involving drugs and domestic violence should be issued with the same severity that cases that chip away at the integrity of the game have been doled out. That’s really honoring the game -- for its present and for its enduring future.

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