DAN BICKLEY

Job well done by MLB for penalties assessed to Astros, AJ Hinch

Jan 13, 2020, 6:33 PM | Updated: 7:43 pm
AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros looks on during batting practice prior to Game Six of the 2019 W...
AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros looks on during batting practice prior to Game Six of the 2019 World Series against the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park on October 29, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Cheating isn’t strategy. It’s a character flaw.

The Astros have learned the difference.

Their investment in stealing signs rigged the playing field in Major League Baseball, fueling paranoia inside the ranks. They put every Houston batter squarely inside a moral dilemma:

Do I accept information from my employer that allows me to know what pitch is coming?

Will I be alienated inside the clubhouse if I refuse?

Today, every one of those players is stigmatized by their actions and their silent complicity. The Astros have put an asterisk on their World Series title in 2017. They cheated a handful of teams out of a potential championship. They cheated playoff foes like the Dodgers and Yankees. They might’ve cheated the Red Sox, but it sounds like they were cheating in Boston, too.

The Astros are lucky they lost to the Nationals in the 2019 World Series. Imagine the furor if the cheaters were two-time defending World Series champions?

Either way, the Astros cheated the game far worse than Pete Rose ever did. That’s why commissioner Rob Manfred swung the hammer on Monday, announcing a series of penalties with certain malice. It was a refreshing change.

This is a sport that looked the other way during the Steroid Era, when the drug-fueled exploits of a few popular sluggers put fans in the stands while desecrating the record book. A sport that spent $20 million to fund the Mitchell Report investigation, then allowed Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to later serve MLB as highly-compensated hitting instructors, stealing from the game once again.

Baseball finally seized a controversial moment and handled it properly. Manfred issued heavy penalties to on-field crimes that come with easy solutions. At a time when catchers and pitchers can surely communicate without hand signals. All they need is technology, the same kind that allowed soulless players in Houston to cheat their fellow competitors.

Manfred did something else in his judiciary process. He put a lot of pressure on his counterpart, Roger Goodell.

The NFL commissioner must soon bang his own gavel, levying penalties against a bunch of repeat offenders in New England who specialize in winning championships. The Patriots have already paid heavy penalties for their actions in SpyGate, along with unprecedented monetary fines.

They might’ve cheated their way to a Super Bowl victory over Kurt Warner’s Rams. That conspiracy never goes away. Former star Marshall Faulk once noted how the Patriots showed an uncanny ability to identify and react to offensive sets the Rams unveiled during that Super Bowl, aware of stuff the Rams’ offense had only practiced during the week before, when no one was (allegedly) watching.

The Patriots have six Super Bowl championships under Bill Belichick. They also have a reputation as the premier sign-stealers in professional sports, just like the Astros. They’ve also been accused of deflating footballs. And they just broke the rules again, illegally taping the Bengals under some Pollyanna premise, with Belichick completely unaware of what was happening under his watch.

Yeah, right. We all laugh at that one. But will the NFL ever discipline Belichick the way MLB hammered AJ Hinch?

Nope. Never. Goodell doesn’t have a spine or the power to bench the most successful coach in NFL history, even with all the asterisks and suspicions in his wake.

Even though the Patriots have compromised the integrity of the NFL far more than the Astros have damaged America’s pastime.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Job well done by MLB for penalties assessed to Astros, AJ Hinch