Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander celebrates after winning the 2017 World Series Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP
baseball

MLB urged to strip Astros of 2017 World Series title over cheating scandal

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By EZRA SHAW

Major League Baseball faced calls to strip the Houston Astros of their 2017 World Series crown on Tuesday as the prospect of further sanctions loomed in the cheating scandal that has rocked the sport.

Baseball was left reeling on Monday after Astros skipper A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were banned for 2020 and then sacked by the club's owners.

The Astros were also fined $5 million (4.49 million euros) and stripped of draft picks in 2020 and 2021 after a scathing report by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred which detailed an illegal sign-stealing scheme used by the team in 2017.

Although the penalties were among the most severe ever issued by the league, several commentators on Tuesday said they did not go far enough, with some calling for the Astros' 2017 World Series win to be voided.

"The title is illegitimate," ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith said "They should be stripped of their World Series crown. This is cheating. The evidence was so profound that one hour after the ruling came down, those dudes were fired."

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bob Brookover also argued for the 2017 title to be vacated.

"While Manfred's penalty was harsh, he could have sent an even stronger message by stripping the Astros of their 2017 World Series title," Brookover wrote. "Make them take down the banner at Minute Maid Park and vacate all records of their title."

The Los Angeles Times' veteran columnist Bill Plaschke said the Los Angeles Dodgers had been "cheated" out of the 2017 World Series by the Astros.

"The Dodgers were jobbed out of a championship that would have ended a 29-year drought, and what is MLB going to do about that?" Plaschke wrote.

"The Dodgers won't get to claim the title. That damage has already been done. That parade has already been lost. But the Astros should be forced to hand the Commissioner's Trophy back to Commissioner Rob Manfred right now, vacate the title and forever leave that space in the record books as empty as the organization's integrity."

The Washington Post's Thomas Boswell meanwhile said the Astros cheating in 2017 compared to the most notorious scandal in baseball history, the Black Sox scandal of 1919, when eight members of the Chicago White Sox took bribes to throw the World Series.

"This scandal is a perfect illustration of why cheating in professional sports is so bad," Boswell wrote. "It ruins everything. There is no way to fix the damage. And that scar across a sport's visage is permanent, as with the World Series 101 years ago that is still known by just two words: Black Sox."

The fallout from the scandal is also expected to claim another high-profile name, with Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora bracing for severe sanctions for his role in the sign-stealing scheme.

Cora, an assistant coach at the Astros in 2017, was repeatedly named in Manfred's report on Monday as one of the ringleaders of the sign-stealing.

No punishment was announced on Monday for Cora, who guided the Red Sox to the World Series title in 2018, because investigators are still probing separate sign-stealing allegations involving Boston.

But the Boston Globe meanwhile said the Red Sox should take the initiative and sack Cora without delay.

"The Red Sox need to fire Alex Cora now. Yesterday if possible," Globe commentator Dan Shaughnessy wrote. "Don't wait for MLB to tell you what to do. Just do the right thing."

© 2020 AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

5 Comments
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What kind of signs, cut fastball low and outside, pitcher catcher signs?

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@quercetum - yes, those; the batter can't normally see what signs the catcher is putting down for the pitcher, but the Astros had people watching cameras focused on the catcher (and opposing dugout) and were reading the signs and instantly signalling to the batter by banging on metal garbage cans. The batter thus knew what kind of pitch was coming.

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News just out that Cora was fired by the Red Sox. Well deserved.

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The Astros should be stripped of all titles that season and removed from the books. That cheat Cora did it the next year when Boston won too. That title should also be vacated.

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From accounts, the scheme was player-driven, but with then Houston Astros bench coach Cora at the forefront.

After the 2017 Boston Red Sox - Apple Watch sign-stealing incident, the MLB commissioner sent a memo to all teams that he's not kidding around about the use of electronics and that the next punishment would be severe. That the Astros continued using it throughout 2017, including the World Series, and into 2018 illustrated how much disregard they showed to the commissioner.

One may ask, if it's player-driven, why then Astros manager Hinch and GM Luhnow took the brunt? They may only be in the periphery of this, but it's the NCAA-equivalent of "lack of institutional control" levied against universities even if they don't know what was going on but should have. But then why not the culpable players too?

MLB can easily punish their own employees, but the players have the MLB Players Association. The MLB can't blanket-punish everyone the same just because they're on the team roster since different players have different degrees of culpability. And the MLBPA would force the MLB to prove how much degree each player is culpable - which would drag on for years, if not impossible. That's why the MLB isn't punishing the players involved - it just isn't practical. The only thing they can probably do is to cast doubt on the legitimacy of their WS accomplishment, kinda like an asterisk.

For the same reason with ex-Astros player Beltran, even if he's now the new manager of the NY Mets. It's left up to the team execs to decide about their managers.

When Cora became the 2018 Red Sox manager, he brought such a scheme with him and doubled-down on a similar use of electronics. So that's twice for him and the Red Sox - that's why that punishment may be even more severe.

The other teams can't talk at least right now since the MLB told them all to keep zipped and now pour gas into the fire. But the most aggrieved may be the LA Dodgers - they lost the World Series back-to-back to the 2017 Astros and the 2018 Red Sox. (Yu Darvish pitched for the Dodgers, so who knows if he was really that bad in the WS.) The next may be the NY Yankees - they lost in the AL playoffs to the Astros in 2017 and to the Red Sox in 2018. And next may be the bit-players who pitched against the Astros and Red Sox, and then got sent down to the minors or cut because they got rocked in those games.

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