An Important Distinction

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive many great pieces of advice over the years but one of the best that’s always resonated with me is this:

If you’re looking to root for a pro sports team that is devoid of scumbags you’re going to be looking for a long time.  I always try to remember that and keep that in mind before I cast moral aspersions toward professional athletes and teams who have been outed for their departures from what would be considered normative behavior.

Another thing I’ve learned about the history of baseball is this:  Players would do whatever they felt they had to do to win in the 19th century and players today do what they feel they need to do to win.  That has been one constant through the ever-changing landscape of baseball and it’s going to remain constant whether you like it or not.

Let he without sin cast the first stone, so I’m not going to tell anyone how to decide upon and apply their moral compass to situations like the Astros have gotten themselves into recently.  Each fan needs to determine for him and herself where their moral lines lie.

But there is a very big distinction with the Astros situation that instead of being clear with most fans, seems to be getting muddled into the vague morass of personal value judgments.

The Astros broke the rules.  That isn’t a value judgment.  There was a clear line of demarcation and they crossed it.

That is much, much different than “cheating” “getting an edge”, rule “bending”, and other vague terms that are all just different versions of morality judgments.

Nobody goes to jail because they’re deemed to be a “bad person”.  People go to jail because it was found they broke the rules.

You can say all you want about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGwire – as I said I’m not going to direct your moral compass for you.  But here’s the thing: They didn’t break any rules according to MLB and therefore don’t deserve to be punished.  Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Ryan Braun did break the rules and did get punished.  They were told explicitly that these certain substances are illegal and if you use them you’ll face strong disciplinary action – and they used them anyway – that’s why they faced the punishments they faced.  It wasn’t because of some moral breakdown of their character.  (Although if you do want to go the personal judgment, poor character route, Braun is a great place to start.)

Pete Rose is a tough guy to defend, needless to say.  But he isn’t banned from baseball because of his detestable personality – he’s banned from baseball because he broke the rules.  The rule is do not bet on baseball – if you do you will be banned.  Pete did.  Bye Pete.  It has nothing to do with what you think of him as a person.  (See also; Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Chick Gandil, etc.)

Pete Rose and Ryan Braun are who we should be comparing the Astros to, not Barry Bonds.  MLB teams were explicitly told that if they use the video systems designed to assist in instant replay for nefarious purposes, they’d be in violation of the rules and would face discipline.

And the Astros did it anyway.  And as the great work of Rob Arthur and Jake Mailot of Fangraphs showed, the Astros’ on-field performance benefitted greatly from their rule-breaking – about 5 WAR according to Arthur.  (If you don’t follow WAR closely, 5 WAR is about the equivalent of an All-Star player being added to your team – Gleyber Torres had 3.9 WAR last season.)  The Astros won an ALCS and a World Series while breaking the rules.  Jose Altuve won an MVP award while breaking the rules.

So as much as I like the punishments that MLB has doled out thus far, it isn’t enough.  For some perspective, the New England Patriots broke more rules more often for a longer period of time and benefitted more from it than the Astros did – and no one cares.  They did their time and are now looked at as one of sports’ greatest dynasties with one of sports’ greatest coaches.

I call BS.  In hindsight, the punishment should have been more severe.

Same with the Astros.  Their title needs to be removed and or have an asterisk next to it.  Aaron Judge should be named the 2017 AL MVP.

And even though as a Yankee fan, my personal frustrations are clear, I don’t say this as a value judgment against the Astros or Altuve.  Again, I’m sure the Yankees and some Yankee players are doing things right this second Yankee fans wouldn’t be proud of.

I’m saying this because the Astros knowingly broke the rules and benefitted greatly.  And I believe, like the Patriots, this will all be forgotten in a few years as if nothing happened.

Nice try Commissioner Manfred, but the hammer needed to come down harder.

Did I miss something?  Let me know.

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