Something is very rotten in both Denmark around its banks regarding AML and the Houston Astros and their leadership. Before and during the World Series, Astros management engaged in either some of the most boneheaded conduct imaginable or was simply disingenuous in the way it handled the Brandon Taubman outburst involving Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein. First, the Astros claimed it never happened and that she made up the story, then the team reversed course and admitted it happened, finally culminating in a letter of apology from team owner Jim Crane.
But now it is much worse, at least from the ethical perspective and that of a toxic culture. Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, writing in The Athletic, reported that the Astros stole signs electronically in 2017, the year they won their first World Series. Former Astros pitcher, Mike Fiers, (cleverly labeled a ‘disgruntled ex-Astro’) said that the Astros used a center-field camera to help steal signs during their 2017 championship season. He went on to note that Astros hitters had used a video feed piped into a monitor near the dugout to decode signs and relay them to hitters during games. Apparently, it had long been suspected that the Astros were gaming the system and now a former Astros has confirmed those suspicians.
Houston management, of course, was Shocked, just Shocked that such allegations were made. Jeff Passan, writing in ESPN.com, said that the Astros were opening an internal investigation into the matter. Commenting at MLB’s Winter Meetings, General Manager Jeff Luhnow said, “the team wanted to gather facts before discussing the matter further. I have heard what you all have heard, which is allegations. This isn’t the first one I heard and it’s not the first one you all have heard. Like I said, I think the best course of action is not to speculate right now.”
My favorite management remark came from Houston General Manager Jeff Luhnow who was quoted in the Houston Chronicle for the following admission, “We haven’t done everything properly, but I do feel confident that in general, most of the time, we did things right and we try and follow the rules. “We try to be good citizens and we try to compete as hard as we can.”” Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon translated “Luhnow’s confusing coachspeak” for the uninitiated. Solomon wrote, “You read what he said. This is what he meant: “Basically, for the most part, generally speaking that is, as these types of things go, if you want to look at it like that … we cheated.”
There you have it. The manager of the team saying yea, we did it.
What will Major League Baseball (MLB) and, more specifically, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred do? First, as Buster Olney wrote in ESPN.com, MLB must take over the investigation, as the Astros are neither competent to investigate themselves nor do they have any credibility at this point. On the competency front, Olney said it should only take two questions to get to the bottom of this issue. “Astros owner Jim Crane can call Jeff Luhnow, Houston’s general manager and head of baseball operations, and ask: What happened? And if Luhnow doesn’t know, he can call his video operator and ask: What happened? That’s all it should take.”
On the credibility front, perhaps if the Astros had not been formally charged in a prior sign-stealing imbroglio, they might have some. But the Astros were caught doing so in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians back in 2018, when MLB’s investigation revealed “Houston stationed a club employee in the camera well next to the Indians’ dugout, amid concerns about sign-stealing.” Houston was fined $500,000 over that incident.
What about the obviously broken culture in Houston? This is way beyond win at all cost. This is a culture which says we are going to lie, cheat and steal and we simply do not care what you think about it. This toxic and broken culture is going to do something no other team in baseball could do; diminish what the Astros achieved over the past 3 years becoming only the 6th team in history to win over 100 games in three consecutive seasons.
Michael Rosenberg, writing in SI.com, said, “Now they have to choose between these two perceptions: 1. The Astros have the best team in baseball and they cheated. 2. The Astros have the best team in baseball because they cheated. Understand: “The Astros didn’t cheat” is not an option. People know. They read former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers detail the system on the record. The Astros were not the only ones to break the rules, but they pretty obviously did break them. There is no doubt what the Astros did is wrong. How much did it help? We can debate that forever. But the only reason to do it is because it helps.”
From now until the end of time these players will always live with the title “Cheaters”. Of course, just like the Patriots in SpyGate and DeflateGate, they may not care as after all they brought the World Series trophy to Houston for the first time ever in 2017. Obviously, Houston ownership and team management do not care that they either participated in or allowed cheating. But I think they will find that in baseball, just like in the business world, it really does not matter how much you win if you lied, cheated and stole to get there.
How high up in the organization did this cheating scandal go? Well if you believe the detailed report of the whistleblower, there was a camera hidden in an outfield scoreboard which showed the catcher’s signs, this information was then relayed into the dugout where some type of audio signal would be given to the batter. It could a baseball bat hit against container or very loud whistling from the dugout. All that means, it required a PO requisition, approved by someone in management. Then there was installation and sending the signal into the locker room or dugout where a monitor was set up for someone to see and interpret the catcher’s signs and then the information relayed to the batter.
This means the players, the manager and those who pay the bills and those who sign off on the expenditures. Sounds like it goes up pretty high to me. What are the odds that the Astros find it was a single ‘rogue employee’ much like Taubman who amazingly out of the blue made an incredibly inappropriate remark? Of course, in the aftermath of the Taubman affair, the Astros Team President, Reed Ryan (son of Nolan Ryan), was ‘promoted’ to head of Special Projects and the owner’s son was brought in to run the team so perhaps there was accountability.
Something is very rotten in Houston and like most fish, the rot starts at the top.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2019