DAN BICKLEY

Houston Astros represent last straw in cheating history of MLB

Mar 10, 2020, 7:36 PM | Updated: 8:05 pm
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Foreword:

Sunrise, January 2008. I report to Diamondbacks Fantasy Camp in Tucson, soul soaring with poetry and romance. First participant in the building. Uniform hanging in my locker, surname stitched on the back. Like I’ve walked inside a dream. And you want to know real dedication?

Chip Hale, future manager of the D-backs, is buzzing about in semi-darkness, arriving shortly after 4 a.m. to make sure wannabe players feel like they’re really in the Show.

Two days later, and my quadriceps are screaming. Ankles numb from foul balls and bad bounces. Torn up from the invisible grind. Sore enough to shower in the hot tub. Near the end of my grand adventure, I hobbled to the lobby bar for liquid relief, where I was struck by an awful epiphany.

If I had a forbidden magic pill, would I take it to feel better?

Gulp.

To recover faster? To get up in the morning eager and ready to play two? To conquer this devilish sport?

Yes, yes and yes.

That’s when I knew that cheating and baseball was a complicated issue.

***

Playing professional baseball is harder than it looks. It’s a sport rooted in failure. It tests your will and your moral compass.

It’s a sport that has glorified cheating for too long, from Gaylord Perry’s greasy fingers to the pine tar on George Brett’s bat. A sport where the Hit King and the Home Run King are both dirty, from Pete Rose’s admission to using greenies in 1979 to Barry Bonds’ cartoonish, drug-fueled physique while stealing Hank Aaron’s throne.

The Astros are only the latest example. But they are the last straw.

They have shamed the game in a profound and disgusting way, appalling players and fans alike.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a game where I don’t think anybody wants to see cheating anymore,” D-backs pitcher Mike Leake said. “It’s just kind of gotten to that point.”

The Astros are different because they used advancements in technology to steal signs. To ruin careers. To defy the commissioner and terrify opposing managers who felt helpless in their web of deceit.

Seduced by their power to skew a game, the Astros began banging on trash cans, whistling for fastballs, possibly wearing electronic devices under their jerseys.

They were ultimately ruined by Jose Altuve’s pennant-clinching home run against Yankees’ star reliever Aroldis Chapman, the dirtiest act in baseball ever caught on videotape.

No one can prove it. But everyone knows what is happening in that home run celebration. It means the Astros skated in 2019 in exchange for what they admitted about 2017. And it’s time for the sport to regain some long-lost credibility.

“One thing I never did was cheat at the game of baseball,” former D-backs star Mark Grace said. “I never did any steroids. I never scuffed a baseball for my pitcher. They could scuff them on their own. My numbers are my numbers. They’re not steroid-ed. There’s not anything like this Houston Astros crap. And most of us from my era can sleep well at night knowing that.”

Pause.

“I’m telling you guys, if I knew every pitch that was coming, I would’ve hit .450,” Grace said. “And Tony Gwynn would’ve hit .550.”

Imagine what that would’ve done to the record books.

***

Baseball can be rough sledding between the ears. Can you keep it together during a slump? Do you trust things will eventually get better? Do you turn to superstitions? Will you take shortcuts wherever possible? Will desperation lead to cheating?

Baseball is more than a grind. It makes the brain surrender. It leads low-character athletes into a murky arena, where ethics and sportsmanship are too easily compromised.

It’s time for the sport to look in the mirror, banning everything from foreign substances to iPods in the dugout. Baseball needs to rise again, with a bat and a ball and may the best competitor win. A place where cheaters no longer persist and they no longer prevail.

Dan Bickley

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Houston Astros represent last straw in cheating history of MLB