Every fan of baseball knows the story. After having been acquitted of taking bribes to throw the 1919 World Series involving the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds, a young baseball fan is reported to have said to Shoeless Joe Jackson “Say It Ain’t So, Joe.” Jackson’s response is said to have been “It’s so. It’s so.”
Today I am that kid. My hometown heroes, the Houston Astros, the team I have followed since their inception (and even before, when they were the Colt 45s) stand guilty of cheating in one of the biggest Major League Baseball scandals since 1919. For multiple seasons, the Astros employed an electronic system to steal catcher’s signs, transmit them to the Astros dugout where they were interpreted. This information was then communicated to Astros batters, in a decidedly old school manner of banging a baseball bat on a trashcan. Say It Ain’t So
But I am having a tough time sorting out how I feel. As the adult Compliance Evangelist, I know how I should feel. I should be disgusted, dismayed and repulsed as you have to wonder how much of the Astros magical ride to the 2017 World Series championship was predicated on this cheating. While a part of me can rationalize that the signal-stealing improved overall team batting average by a miniscule amount, that the Astros could not employ the communication of the signal portion of the cheating scheme during the World Series because MinuteMaid Park was rocking and rolling so loudly, or that the Astros won Game 7 against the LA Dodgers at the Dodger Stadium where they could not have used the entire sign-stealing system; the bottom line is that the Astros cheated and in cheating, as Jose Mourinho once said, they changed “the truth of the game.” But I am still that kid too. Say It Ain’t So
I could say the Astros paid one of the highest prices for cheating any pro sports team has ever paid; a $5 million fine, loss of first and second round draft picks, a suspended (and now fired) GM and Manager, so they have paid the price and that price is enough. But for all the joy I felt when the Astros won, I have a good friend who was feeling as downtrodden as I was elated, and that friend is Adam Turteltaub. Adam was at Game 7 and we were tweeting throughout the Game. As the Astros pulled ahead decisively, I could feel the pain in Adam’s tweet. Was the cheating scandal fair to him or to any other Dodger fan? Say It Ain’t So
It’s so. It’s so.
Thanks, Tom. And I have to note that the Dodgers went on to lose their next World Series to the Red Sox, another implicated team. Arguably, we were cheated out of the World Series twice.
A large part of me thinks baseball should vacate both World Series wins, but I have to admit to my own conflict of interest there.
As someone who has served the compliance profession for almost 20 years now, I will take a compliance perspective to look at what is being done after the incident. I’m encouraged by what I see.
MLB took a stand which is good. Teams have taken a stronger stand, which is better. The Houston owner stated that he wants to operate to a higher standard and fired the team’s leadership at the worst possible time for the team. He even pledged to start a compliance program.
The Red Sox and Mets both followed suit in firing their managers. And the Mets deserve extra credit given that MLB did not hand down a penalty to their manager. Alex Cora, the now former manager of the Red Sox, is awaiting MLB’s decision about him.
Baseball has had many missteps along the years, from this scandal, to performance enhancing drugs, to decades of segregation. Each has been a stain, but when baseball rises to the occasion it can inspire the nation.
Desegregating baseball showed the country that people, both black and white, can work together successfully. And Martin Luther King, Jr. even gave the early African-American baseball players credit for what they did to make his job a bit easier https://am570lasports.iheart.com/content/2019-02-19-don-newcombe-shares-a-story-of-when-martin-luther-king-came-over-for-dinner/.
Here too, baseball, can be a model, and I hope it will be a reminder to others that people who win the wrong way don’t belong in the organization.
I get it that management needed to be held accountable for this activity but I’m disappointed that no players were punished for a scheme that was devised by and run by the players, not management.
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