When you break the law, the punishment is usually quite simple.
You get arrested by the police, you go to court and you’re either found guilty or not guilty. If you’re found not guilty, you crack on with your life as simply and as easily as you can. If you’re found guilty, you serve a prison sentence or some form of punishment to pay for the crime (or crimes) that you committed.
Now usually, the punishment is fairly severe. If you rob a bank, you go to prison. That’s fair, right? You commit a crime, you break the law, you face a punishment that is usually of the same level as the crime you have committed. There isn’t a judge on the planet that will say at the end of a trial ‘you know what, I would have sentenced you but the public humiliation you’ve received is punishment enough, off you go and don’t let me see you back here again.’ Public humiliation isn’t a suitable punishment. Sure, it’s unpleasant but as long as that humiliation doesn’t become nasty, hate-filled or putting someone in danger, then it’s fair game. You can suffer public humiliation but still face a proper punishment.
So why did Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball decide that the only suitable punishment for the Houston Astros players was public humiliation?
‘Yeah, I understand. I understand people’s desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here. I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think they’re skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that’s just a mischaracterization of where we are.’
If you agree with the whole public shaming thing, you’re either one of two things. You’re either Rob Manfred himself or a complete idiot. And to be perfectly honest, there are a lot of people in baseball (and all of sports) that are having a tough time distinguishing one from the other at the moment.
The criticism of Manfred is fair, especially when the commissioner of Major League Baseball calls the World Series a ‘piece of metal’ (it’s even worse when you realise that the actual World Series trophy is called the Commissioner’s Trophy) and the reaction from star players from other teams, LeBron James and even the legendary Hank Aaron has meant that the failure to punish the Houston Astros has almost become as much of a story as the sign stealing scandal!
So, for the sake of fairness, let’s look at this from Manfred’s point of view. He’s gotten evidence from Astros players on sign stealing – evidence he could have gotten elsewhere without the players involved – and given the players immunity in exchange for their testimonies.
Okay, that seems like standard practise. Anyone who’s watched Law and Order knows that if you need information from someone, you give them something in exchange for that information. So let’s just put the players to one side for the moment because you don’t need the headache of the Players Union biting at the league because you singled out one player. So you suspend AJ Hinch because he clearly knew and if he didn’t know, he deserved to be suspended for somehow not knowing about it, and you suspend Jeff Luhnow because clearly the orders for this came from above at some point. He’s similar to Hinch in that he may not have been the orchestrator, but as GM you have to have known it was going on. All of that seems fair. Taking draft picks away and preventing international signing bonuses is always a safe bet mainly because the Astros have shown that they have been quite influential with their international signings.
So on one hand, Manfred did the right thing initially. With the initial findings, the majority of fans would’ve held up their hands and said ‘okay, that seems fair enough. It isn’t too severe of a punishment but we understand that you won’t go for the players’, but when more info comes out that the league decided against pursuing more action against the players, when Manfred slams his own trophy on ESPN and when he confirms in a second press conference that the Astros banged their trash cans in the 2017 playoffs, it makes the initial punishment hard to swallow.
Was the public shaming enough? We won’t know until we see how the Astros players deal with the constant booing, the looks that opposing players give and how they deal with the fact that – rightly or wrongly – opposing pitchers will throw pitches at them and will aim for the head. That will be when we see whether the shaming was enough. But as of right now, February 2020, it isn’t enough.
So what would be enough? Take the title off of them? That works, as long as you don’t award it to anyone else. Same goes for Jose Altuve’s 2017 MVP Award. Aaron Judge deserves it, but he shouldn’t get it now. No one should.
There isn’t really a set of guidelines for this as it’s never really happened before and that is where I have the smallest bit of sympathy with Rob Manfred. Manfred is having to set a precedent with an entire sports fanbase wanting everyone involved banned and even executives calling for blood. It’s an almost impossible situation but Manfred has still managed to mess it all up.
The base punishment should be simple. Take the 2017 World Series away, take Altuve’s 2017 MVP Award away, take multiple draft picks, suspended multiple coaches, front office staff and even players if you need to (and worry about the Players Union afterwards) and work from there. If you feel that is enough, then explain why. If you want to go further and perhaps ban the Astros from the 2020 playoffs provided they get there (something that I don’t think would work and wouldn’t be fair on the players at the club now who weren’t involved in the scandal) or force them to start the 2020 Regular Season with 20 losses to their name – like a points deduction in football/soccer – then again, you have to explain why. You shouldn’t have people asking more questions AFTER your investigation is over. Your investigation should answer any questions that are being or could be being asked by fans, players and front office members.
But simply put, this will define Rob Manfred. He has managed to somehow take Major League Baseball backwards at a time when it literally hasn’t been easier to promote the stars of the game and send out positive message after positive message and make fans feel wanted (you can’t even watch the Toronto Blue Jays on MLB TV if you’re in Canada, for goodness sake) and yet he still manages to come out of this offseason with egg on his face.
It was a booming offseason for baseball with stories everywhere and now it looks like it’s heading backwards because of Manfred and his inability to do anything right. The man needs to move on from his position and I don’t have a single candidate lined up to replace him because whoever takes over cannot possibly do any worse.
Manfred messed up the biggest team scandal in baseball history and managed to come out of it looking so weak that the star players on his own league have come out to speak against his punishments. Pack your bags, Rob, because you need to be on the first flight out of Major League Baseball.