Justice  /  Argument

Say It Is So: Baseball’s Disgrace

The case for electing "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and Pete Rose to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The scandals did not end. More discovered over the last thirty years have resulted in harsh penalties assessed on specific players. The great hitter Pete Rose’s betting on baseball, exposed in 1989, was peanuts compared to the offenses of either the Black Sox or the 1951 Giants. While managing the Cincinnati Reds at the end of the 1980s, Rose, the all-time major league leader in hits, placed wagers on baseball games—but never against his own team, which would have been deeply suspicious. Still, Rose, like the Black Sox, was banished for life, which makes him, like Joe Jackson, ineligible for the Hall of Fame. 

The steroid use scandal uncovered in 2004, which, compared to Rose’s betting, involved far greater offenses to the game’s integrity, brought no banishments. Still, more than eighty players have suffered suspensions ranging from ten games to an entire season for violating the drug policy adopted by Major League Baseball in the wake of the revelations; one repeat offender, Jenrry Mejía, a New York Mets pitcher, was suspended permanently in 2016, though reinstated two years later by the current commissioner, Rob Manfred; and the shame attached to steroid use has excluded several retired all-star players, including the all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds, from entering the Hall of Fame.

Which brings us to the crushing scandal that enveloped baseball as this year’s spring training commenced, involving the Houston Astros’, and possibly the Boston Red Sox’s, exploitation of a high-tech version of the 1951 Giants’ sign-stealing conspiracy. Even before all the facts have come in, it is by far the worst disgrace ever to hit the game and could well cripple it. The Black Sox infractions involved a few players’ fixing a few games in a single World Series; the Giants’ involved an entire team, or the better part of one, cheating for half a season and possibly in the 1951 World Series (to no avail if it happened, as the Giants lost badly to the far superior New York Yankees). The Pete Rose and steroid scandals hardly compare with these. 

The Astros’ cheating, however, involved, at the very least, the front office as well as players’ devising and deploying a variety of intricate schemes to steal signs of the opposing teams for at least the entire 2017 season and post-season, in which they actually won the World Series; and it may have continued through the 2018 and 2019 seasons and post-seasons, in which they won one division championship and one American League pennant. The 2018 Boston Red Sox, another World Series winner, may also be implicated, as their manager that year, Alex Cora, may have been heavily involved in setting up the Astros’ cheating systems. That is, the validity of the last three seasons of major league play have been seriously called into question.