MLB and the Astros billionaire

Yesterday Major League baseball handed out their punishment to the Houston Astros for stealing signs during their 2017 World Series winning season. In addition to the punishment handed out by the MLB, the owner of the Astros, Jim Crane, fired his manager, A. J. Hinch, and his general manager, Jeff Luhnow. Both becoming the fall guys (along with Joey Cora, manager of the Red Sox, and Carlos Beltran, manager of the New York Mets) for the cheating that took place. The Astros also lost four draft picks and were fined $5 million. A small price to pay for a World Series title.

Inherent to baseball

After chatting with someone about the Astros punishment yesterday I was asked if I thought baseball players and executives were more likely to cheat than those in other sports. It was an interesting question. My first inclination was definitely not. There are cheaters in all sports. However, after reflecting a bit more, I couldn’t be sure. Baseball has always had ways to cheat that were considered a part of the game. Just don’t get caught. Corked bats and spit balls (and other substances) come to mind. Sign stealing has also always been a part of baseball. It is legal as long as you don’t use video equipment during the game to figure it out (this is also the case in college and professional football). And then there is performance enhancing drugs.

Cheating feels like a systemic issue from the top when considering how slow MLB was in figuring out how to handle performance enhancing drugs. It was slow because the money and attention were too good. The ratings and media attention around Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds were too much to pass up. While a black eye remains, the value of MLB teams increased significantly.

According to Forbes in 2003, the top valued MLB team was worth $849 million. The bottom valued team in 2003 was worth $113 million. In 2019, again according to Forbes, the top valued team is worth $4.3 billion. The bottom valued team is worth $1 billion. In 16 seasons that is an increase of 542% for the top valued team and a 885% increase for the bottom valued slot.

It appears no financial investments were harmed during MLB’s slowroll in dealing with performance enhancing drugs. *Only players were damaged during this time.

*Not to say that players don’t deserve some of to blame, but they were part of system that was allowing it for its own benefit. Then they were thrown under the bus.

Billionaire wins, again

The owner of the Astros, billionaire Jim Crane, gets no real punishment. He keeps his 2017 World Series ring. He keeps his franchise. And he gets to look like the good guy because he fired his manager and general manager. I’m relieved that there are respected industry journalists that are calling out the MLB and Jim Crane for what this is, Billionaire protection. Utilizing fake punishment and public relations to shift blame from those that are in charge.

The Astros, predictably, are also the franchise that had the “I’m so fucking glad we got Osuna!” issue.

These aren’t issues that only happen with employees of an organization. These are issues that are carried out by employees within a culture of an organization. The culture is created from the top by the people they hire and the values they set. Jim Crane shouldn’t be let off the hook. Jeff Passan, in his article (also referenced earlier), states “Either Crane did not know that the business he owns and operates was cheating or he did know and did nothing about it. Neither is good.”

Agreed. Either he’s complicit or he’s lost organizational control.

How about a post season ban

The NCAA, which isn’t immune from cheating by any means, has a punishment that professional organizations should consider: post season bans. No playoffs. No World Series. Imagine handing the Houston Astros a five year post season ban where they lose all of their first and second round draft picks through the duration of the ban, so they can’t tank during this time to get better. I can. This would inflict some pain.

While we’re at it, we might as well institute another NCAA tool that forces institutions to vacate wins and titles for seasons where severe cheating was uncovered. This would be an additional sting to accompany the post season ban. The Astros wouldn’t be able to display their 2017 World Series flag in their stadium, reference it in any of their materials, or sell merchandise referencing it.

Major League Baseball needs to find the gumption to actually punish its owners. If not, then the MLB is complicit in the cheating that occurs.

This post also applies to the NFL regarding the New England Patriots.


Joey Cora was fired by the Boston Red Sox for his role in sign stealing while a bench coach for the Astros.

Carlos Beltran has been fired by the New York Mets for his role in sign stealing as a member of the Astros.

Additional reading:

4 responses to “MLB and the Astros billionaire

  1. Jeremy Felt Avatar

    The facial recognition is completely out of control story from the NY Times was a terrifying way to start the week. It’s also not new. Previously terrifying: 2019 and 2018.

    This whole piece on publishing in the last decade is really good. I hadn’t ever thought of ordering from Barnes & Noble as a way of pushing back against Amazon. I’ll keep IndieBound and the used bookstore down the street as my new defaults, but it’s nice to log other options.

    The Washington Post’s candidate matching quiz was interesting. I matched with Warren for 14 of 20 questions. Biden and Buttigieg tied for last place at 7. How I match with Warren but agree more with two billionaires than Joe and Pete will remain a mystery. ??‍♂️

    I’ve barely paid attention to the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal, but enjoyed reading Steve’s “MLB and the Astros Billionaire” and Om’s “Just get paid & our culture of lies“—both interesting and comprehensive takes.

    I appreciate Steve’s idea of a post-season ban for cheaters. Om agrees the billionaire isn’t being blamed enough, though seems to put a bit more pressure on the players than I would.

    How players act in these scenarios brings to mind Tyler Hamilton‘s excellent “The Secret Race“, in which he talks about cycling being the one thing he wants in the world and how hard it is as a newcomer to speak up when the veterans around you are all cheating. And then all of a sudden you’re in it and the circle continues.

    The money is different in the MLB—I’m guessing fewer major league athletes are living out of vans—but the general pressure to comply must be intense.

    I’m annoyed at how often I’ll reach for Twitter on any given day, so I added their AS number as one of Facebook’s in the script I use to block all Facebook traffic. My laptop is now Twitter and Facebook free.

    I think I’m getting closer to wanting to find an alternative way to read Twitter. By turning off retweets and reducing the number of people I follow, there’s much less to keep up with.

    And it worked! I updated this post with the above, closed the tab, and then immediately tried to open Twitter. Habits!

    1. Stephen Avatar

      I appreciate reading Om’s take on MLB’s sign stealing. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Mike Avatar

    I agree with you 100 percent. A post season ban would hit harder!

  3. anonymous Avatar

    It pains me seeing the Houston Astros in the ALCS. The MLB didn’t get this right.

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