Apologies And Other Fallout From The Baseball Cheating Scandal (Updated, And Updated Again)

Ex-Astros manager Hinch and “dead man walking” Alex Cora, the cheating mastermind.

Since I posted the initial commentary on Major League Baseball’s tough punishment of the Houston Astros for their illegal sign-stealing (there are legal ways to steal signs too), there have been some interesting developments with ethical implications.

The full MLB report  can be read or downloaded here.

  • One promising development is the widespread discussions of organizational culture that have been taking place in the media. When Astros owner Jim Crane announced that he was firing GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, both suspended for a year by the Commissioner of Baseball, he made it clear that the team needed to reform its culture, which had metastasized from  “play to win”  into a “win by any means necessary.”  There were signs of this in Houston long before the sign-stealing was known, when in 2018 the team traded for relief pitcher Robero Osuna while he was suspended for domestic abuse and facing trial—even though the Astros had previously announced a “no-tolerance” policy regarding players and domestic abuse. The team really needed a closer, you see.

The Astros culture, we now can see, was thoroughly compromised by ethics rot, and eliminating one or two managers won’t fix the problem immediately.

  • A prime enabler of that rot was Jeff Luhnow, who traded for Osuna. After he was fired yesterday, he issued this apology:

If he had stopped with the first paragraph, Luhnow could have claimed to have made perhaps a Level 3 apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale,  “An apology motivated by a desire to accept accountability for an event or occurrence that one may not have caused, but was responsible for in some way.” The rest, however, put him in Level 9 territory, “Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not.”

Major League Baseball has made it crystal clear that team management is responsible and accountable for serious rules infractions and cheating on their clubs. If Luhnow didn’t know, he should have known. It was his job to know. Contrived ignorance has been the life’s blood of rotting cultures from Nazi Germany to Enron to Hollywood. Moreover, the Osuna episode was strong evidence that Luhlow is a cheater, since he showed he would break his own rules when he saw a benefit for his team.

Blaming others is also not an ethical component of an apology.

  • Luhnow’s focus on the “ethics accounting” rationalization that there were more positives than negatives in his tenure is also telling.  The organization under his management crashed and burned. This no time to talk about “positives.” No one wants to hear from the captain of the Titanic about all those safe voyages he made while the ship is going down.

Discussions in various forums suggest that most in baseball considered the  statement tone deaf.  Good. His poor apology skills were also mirrored by his subordinates. 

“I appreciate Commissioner Manfred‘s unwavering commitment to upholding the best interests of baseball. I regret being connected to these events, am disappointed in our club‘s actions within this timeline, and I accept the Commissioner’s decision. As a leader and Major League Manager, it is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way. While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry. I apologize to Mr. Crane for all negative reflections this may have had on him and the Astros organization. To the fans, thank you for your continued support through this challenging time – and for this team. I apologize to all of you for our mistakes but I’m confident we will learn from it – and I personally commit to work tirelessly to ensure I do.My time in Houston has provided some of the greatest moments in my career and those memories will always be near and dear to me and my family. I regret that my time with the Astros has ended, but will always be a supporter of the club, players, and staff I’ve had the privilege of working alongside. I wish them the best in the future of the game I love.”

Again, however, the apology is marred by his statement that he “didn’t endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them.” Failing to stop them is endorsing and participating. The investigation showed that Hinch “attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme” by physically damaging the monitor used in the cheating scheme on two occasions. Despite this, Hinch admitted he did not take action to stop it, nor did he tell players or his bench coach, Alex Cora (the architect of the cheating plan) that he disapproved of it. Hinch knew about but did not stop the communication of sign information from the replay review room, although he told investigators that he disagreed with the practice and “voiced his concerns” on at least one occasion.

All he had to do to end the cheating was to tell his subordinates to stop.

  • Why weren’t the players punished? The report says that  “assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical,” though “virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme.” It was impossible to determine degrees of culpability. Many of the players interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line from what the player believed was fair competition and/or violated MLB rules. Players slo stated that if Hinch told them to stop engaging in the conduct, they would have immediately stopped.

I agree that this was the right call by MLB, except…

  • …the report reveals that Astros designated hitter, Carlos Beltran a veteran great in his final year as a player and respected as a team leader, was, along with bench coach Alex Cora, a main force in developing the cheating methods. The evidence regarding Beltran is strong; why wasn’t he punished? Worse, Beltran was just hired as manager of the New York Mets!

The Mets should fire him.

  • As for Alex Cora, the consensus is that the current Red Sox manager will be punished more severely than Hinch, who was suspended for a year. That would be appropriate appropriate, since he engineered sign-stealing schemes that corrupted two teams. There is even speculation that he may be banned from baseball permanently.

Addendum: I am adding this to the original post. Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers is the whistleblower who revealed the Astros cheating conspiracy. He now pitches for the A’s, but was a member of the Astros in 2017. I heard ex-players grudgingly say yesterday that he did the right thing, but the consensus is that Fiers  will be a pariah around the league, not  just in Houston. “How can anyone trust him to keep a clubhouse confidence?” one commentator asks.

UPDATE: The Red Sox fired Alex Cora.


Here’s a link to the post that Facebook won’t reject as “violating community standards”: https://twitter.com/CaptCompliance/status/1217140612228579328

13 thoughts on “Apologies And Other Fallout From The Baseball Cheating Scandal (Updated, And Updated Again)

  1. Query: Should MLB allow pitchers and catchers and bench people to transmit pitch calls via some sort of encrypted radio? I think they should. I think football allows play calls to be transmitted to quarterbacks thusly.

    • There are just too many cameras in parks and available to be purchased in any configuration. Hand signals are just inviting trouble.

  2. People who break the rules should be punished, so it’s great that MLB is punishing these guys. That said, I can’t think of a single good reason why people shouldn’t be allowed to steal signals. Get rid of the rule. Teams that don’t want their signals to get stolen will just have to be slightly more clever.

    • Sign stealing using technology is obviously wrong. The game isn’t about who has the best cameras. Sign stealing by eye and hand is an art, and always has been legal. MLB foolishly underestimated the dangers of having the stadiums and clubhouses wired. Among other things, illicit sign stealing is lengthening the games, as teams have to keep changing signs even when nobody’s on base. That alone is a good reason to crack down.

  3. Jack says, “I agree that this was the right call by MLB, except…”

    Well I don’t. As I mentioned in the earlier post from yesterday, I don’t understand why MLB won’t do the right thing. If this was player lead and implemented as it appears, then players should be punished even a nominal amount. They certainly benefited and most more than nominally.

    MLB just looks scared to take on the players union. That is weak and sends the worst kind of signal – its ok to cheat and ok to get caught if you have a good lawyer!

    “It was impossible to determine degrees of culpability.” Whaa? How can you not find culpability in at least the catchers and pitchers who employed the stealing? This looks like the biggest cop out to me.

    • You’re a bit unclear on “sign stealing.” Catchers and pitchers are the victims, not the thieves. A catcher signals a pitcher on which pitch to throw and where. Fielders position themselves according to the signs. If a batter knows what kind of pitch is coming and where, it’s a huge advantage. But not every player wants to be tipped off. You can’t punish a player who cheated who never cheated, and whose boss said, this is what we’re doing and I’m the boss. He can defy his boss, become a pariah on the team, and if he’s not a star, lose a lot of money by being blackballed in baseball, where even the lowest of the low get $500,000 for six months of work. Also these aren’t rocket scientists. Many can’t see why getting signs from a runner on second is different from getting tipped off by a camera operator in centerfield.

      • Wow. Can’t believe I said pitchers and catchers. Twas my bad mood taking over and getting the better of my fingers. Clearly it is the batters who win when they know (have better odds at knowing) what pitch is coming. the pitcher still has to execute. Thanks for the swift correction.

        I still don’t think it could be challenging to know who participated. Unless a player said don’t bang out the signal when I’m up there, they received the cheated signal. They could use it or not. It’s still cheating.

  4. The Red Sox and Cora “parted ways” last evening, per Rotoworld. MLBTradeRumors was a little more blunt…Cora was fired. From their site, Cora’s statement mentions nothing of the sign-stealing:

    “I want to thank John, Tom, Sam, the players, our coaching staff and the entire Red Sox organization. I especially want to thank my family for their love and support. We agreed today that parting ways was the best thing for the organization. I do not want to be a distraction to the Red Sox as they move forward. My two years as manager were the best years of my life. It was an honor to manage these teams and help bring a World Series Championship back to Boston. I will forever be indebted to the organization and the fans who supported me as a player, a manager and in my efforts to help Puerto Rico. This is a special place. There is nothing like it in all of baseball, and I will miss it dearly.”

    • Even the MLB channel noted that there was no apology in there. I guess since the Sox are still facing the results of an ivestiagtion into Cora’s scheme and eventual punishment, he’s going to wait until he has all the things he has to apologize FOR in writing. He could have apologized to the Astros, though. And he should.

      • I wanted to mention that Cora’s reference to “my efforts to help Puerto Rico” seemed a bit self-serving and maybe was a veiled attempt at deflection. You know, “think more about this good thing I’ve done rather than my part in bringing two organizations to this predicament.” But I wasn’t sure if that really the case.

        I read your comments on Luhnow’s apology again and was a bit ashamed of some of the apologies I’ve given in the past. At times, I have sprinkled in some excuses like that. It’s funny how I notice that tendency so much more easily in others than myself. The log in my own eye, I guess…

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