So I was just standing there, shower-shaving and reading yet another story about fans booing those cheating’ Houston Astros when it hit me like a wild pitch: “Seriously…what’s the big deal?”
Remember that scene in Casablanca when Capt. Renault (Claude Rains), forced by the Nazis to drum up an excuse to close Rick’s? He loudly announces: “I shocked - SHOCKED! - to find that gambling is going on in here!”…just as Emil the croupier (Marcel Dalio) walks up and hands Capt. Renault his winnings from that evening.
This feels kinda’ the same to me.
I’ve been a baseball fan since early in my youth, when I graduated from Wiffle ball in my pal Dino’s backyard to playing 2nd base as a 10-year-old for a scrub team called the Dodgers - which gave rise to my first favorite MLB player, L.A. Dodgers 2nd baseman Davey Lopes. Later, it was church and media beer leagues, along with youth baseball and softball coaching as our kids came of age. Pretty standard-issue American baseball fandom track. Wasn’t very good as a player, maybe fair as a coach…but sufficient to earn my American baseball man card.
Throughout that time as player, coach, and fan, the truth is that cheating has been as much a part of the game as Texas Leaguers and drag bunts - particularly baseball of the professional variety - and long before television’s center field camera opened up the sacrosanct, sign-giving world of the catcher’s crotch. From 1800s gambling scandals and Ty Cobb taking out opponents with sharpened cleats to modern day corked bats, baseball doctoring and steroid-enhanced sluggers, the reality of cheating in baseball is as old as the infield dirt
As Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn once said, “A baseball purist will tell you that it’s only cheating if you get caught.”
While I can say with a straight face that I never even thought to try to steal a sign from another team (I undoubtedly wouldn’t have been very good at it) - I witnessed youth coaches (especially travel team coaches) who did so regularly and unashamedly. Seems it’s always been a part of the modern game - an accepted ‘Spy vs Spy’ game within a game…and may the better spy win.
So what did the Astros do? The reality is that they simply used available technology and out-cheated the other guys. That, and they got caught doing it in the wrong games - namely the playoffs and World Series.
It’s been said - and rightly so - that character is what you do when no one is looking.
I’ve played tennis most of my life, and in my experience, at least, the difference between that sport and baseball is stark when it comes to honesty and character. Sure, being that humans are involved, it isn’t 100%, but weekend hackers like myself call our own lines and most are honest to a fault (tennis pun intended.) Golfers can generally claim the same respect for the rules - and for their opponents.
Not so, MLB.
Sadly, early on, cheating became ‘acceptable,’ inevitably followed by ‘expected’ and ‘essential.’ The form changes with the times, but not the base intent - to gain any edge possible by any means possible, because winning is what it’s all about.
“If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’ ,” some cheater once said.
What it all means is hard to say, of course. To me, though, honesty, character and integrity are still infinitely more valuable that a ‘W’; even a World Series ‘W.’
Whatever your feelings on the matter, the outrage seems a bit dubious. After all, history clearly shows that baseball and cheating go together like America and apple pie.