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Thursday, February 20, 2020

A Union Divided: Astros Cheating Scandal Rocks MLB Players Association

As each day passes, the electronic sign-stealing scandal in Major League Baseball proves more irritating to those impacted by it. This is especially true for players, who are all members of the same union, the Major League Baseball Players Association. They have become increasingly willing to publicly condemn fellow union members who played for the Astros in 2017 and who engaged in a form of cheating that has elicited widespread disgust.

Astros players engineered a plot that mixed modern technology with crude sounds. Players and team officials covertly used a camera in the center field area of Houston’s Minute Maid Park. The camera recorded opposing teams’ catcher signals to the pitcher. It then transmitted images over to the Astros’ replay room. The images revealed predictive patterns as to the intended pitch type. The patterns were then shared with those in the Astros dugout and conveyed to batters through coded bangs on a trash can. The plot was so effective that the Astros won the 2017 World Series.

Revisiting the curious logic of Rob Manfred’s decision to not punish guilty players

Despite Astros players’ guilt in what MLB has termed a mostly “player-driven” scheme, commissioner Rob Manfred declined to punish any of the guilty players. Manfred instead gave them immunity in exchange for their cooperation and willingness to share information.

This was surprising on at least four levels.

Some comments on a scandal from a labor-law perspective- which, at the least, is a different one than the usual ones we’ve seen.

 

QLE Posted: February 20, 2020 at 12:42 AM | 25 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dirty rotten cheaters, mlbpa

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: February 20, 2020 at 11:28 AM (#5925563)
Weak article. The players did not stand in solidarity over the steroid issue; many players openly criticized their fellow union members for using them and creating an atmosphere where other union members felt they were being put in a position where they have to consider taking them to keep their jobs.

Manfred is an attorney and thus one has to assume he weighed everything mentioned in the article - and many things ignored by the article. Manfred's job is essentially to represent the owners as a bloc - if the majority of owners wanted to stop electronic sign stealing they would task Manfred with communicating that with a specified set of consequences for the franchises that don't follow their agreed-upon rules. Which is exactly what he did and exactly what he followed. It doesn't satisfy the yokels who want heads on spikes and who mistakenly think outrageous punishment is an effective deterrent, but those people will never be satisfied and should be ignored. If the owners as a bloc decide they want stiffer penalties for their brethren, they can work to get them written.

As with PED's, it was the players that wanted their fellow players punished, the owners probably didn't care that much as long as fellow owners weren't the ones supplying the PED's. The player's wound up bringing PED punishment to the bargaining table, and that opened the door for having to give on other things the owners actually did care about. Now they're doing it again.
   2. Sunday silence Posted: February 20, 2020 at 02:43 PM (#5925685)
you know whats suprising to me: If you're going to give the players immunity in order to not have to embarass their teams by suspending them, then why on earth do you let them keep the trophy?

Hell we could be in this same position right now, if Manfred hadnt given them immunity. Meaning we really dont know what happened and the Astros are hanging on to their trophy. What was the point of that? To get to the bottom of the matter quickly? OK you did they cheated. And now? Keep the trophy.

Whatever Manfred. He needs to reverse his position on this. Its bad
   3. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: February 20, 2020 at 03:10 PM (#5925695)
What was the point of that?

To get the investigation over quickly and give the overall feeling that an investigation was done.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2020 at 04:10 PM (#5925716)
In all the coverage and opinionating, I assume somebody has queried this but ... given MLB (and other big orgs) tend to be reactive not proactive in rulemaking, has anybody asked what prompted the infamous memo to begin with? Were there already rumors of teams cheating this way (which ones?) or was it overflow from scandals in other sports? Or was MLB actually ahead of the game this one time?
   5. Pops Freshenmeyer Posted: February 20, 2020 at 04:16 PM (#5925719)
has anybody asked what prompted the infamous memo to begin with?

It was the Red Sox/Apple Watch thing in 2017.

There was also a memo in 1961 saying no mechanical devices to steal signs and Alderson put out a memo in 2001 saying no electronic communication devices were allowed in the dugouts.
   6. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 20, 2020 at 04:20 PM (#5925722)

#4 if you're referring to the 2017 memo, it was the Red Sox smart watch incident. As Manfred wrote in his report:

Following the issuance of the press release announcing the results of the Red Sox investigation, I issued a memorandum that same day to all Clubs reiterating the rules regarding the use of electronic equipment to steal signs, and putting all Clubs on notice that future violations would be taken extremely seriously by my office. I specifically stated in the memorandum that the General Manager and Field Manager of Clubs would be held accountable for any violations of the rules in the future.

   7. Random Transaction Generator Posted: February 20, 2020 at 08:11 PM (#5925748)
Manfred instead gave them immunity in exchange for their cooperation and willingness to share information.


That's just a smart move on Manfred's part, since there isn't any hope of him actually punishing the players (with suspensions/fines). So he gives them the "olive branch" and they take it and spill all the beans (or, at least, most of the beans). Then he can leave them to hang out in the wind and get pummeled in the court of public opinion.

Most fans don't realize that MLB can't punish players for things not previously described as offenses in the CBA. They learned this lesson back in the 1980s when Fergie Jenkins got busted for coke/hash/pot in his suitcase at an airport, and the league suspended him indefinitely. The MLBPA quickly took them to court/arbitrator, and the arbitrator tossed out the suspension immediately.

This is mentioned in an article in The Athletic:

Despite widespread calls for league action, the commissioner cannot wake up one day and decide which behavior to punish and how. Not without a major fight that he would likely lose anyway. The players’ union guards against such action.

Any potential punishments to Astros players would have prompted grievances and wound up before an arbitrator. And in the words of an official with knowledge of these matters, MLB would have been “smoked.” Another person experienced in this area said that MLB’s case would have been “brutal” and the league would “look a fool.”

The reason? In labor relations, the concept of giving notice is hugely important. Management must clearly lay out how the workplace is to be run. That means providing both notice of the rules and notice of what type of punishment will follow if those rules are broken.

MLB had not worked out the right to punish anyone with the Major League Baseball Players Association, though that may change for the 2020 season.
   8. Random Transaction Generator Posted: February 20, 2020 at 08:13 PM (#5925749)
Oh, and the idea of "vacating" or "taking back" the championship is silly. Rewriting history is always a dumb idea.
   9. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 20, 2020 at 08:19 PM (#5925754)
Most fans don't realize that MLB can't punish players for things not previously described as offenses in the CBA. They learned this lesson back in the 1980s when Fergie Jenkins got busted for coke/hash/pot in his suitcase at an airport, and the league suspended him indefinitely. The MLBPA quickly took them to court/arbitrator, and the arbitrator tossed out the suspension immediately.
So we’re back to “MLB can’t punish players for cheating unless it anticipates their exact cheating scheme in advance, negotiates with them for exactly how they will be punished, and includes express language in the CBA for exactly that type of cheating.”

Because that’s not ridiculous at all.
   10. Jay Z Posted: February 20, 2020 at 09:03 PM (#5925759)
Oh, and the idea of "vacating" or "taking back" the championship is silly. Rewriting history is always a dumb idea.


So let's say the Twins win the 1991 World Series, as they did. Dan Gladden is the MVP and hits 8 home runs. At the parade for the Twins, "Dan Gladden" rips off his latex mask and reveals himself to be Barry Bonds. See, Barry lost in the NLCS, didn't think it was fair to miss the World Series. So he killed Dan Gladden and took his place in disguise.

Bonds would be a criminal and also be violating the rules of baseball. Why do we have to let this stand? No one's denying that "Dan Gladden" actually hit the home runs, they just aren't going to be counted because of rules violations. Get it? It's like instant replay or anything on further review. Or someone getting out of jail on appeal. Is that also "rewriting history?" Further evidence was found which changes the results.
   11. bbmck Posted: February 20, 2020 at 09:36 PM (#5925762)
Gold Carl Lewis 9.93
Silver Raymond Stewart 10.08
Bronze Linford Christie 10.14

Gold Ben Johnson 9.83
Silver Carl Lewis 9.93
Bronze Raymond Stewart 10.08

That's the World Championships in Rome, 13 months later Ben Johnson 9.79 and immediately disqualified, but do you rewrite history?

2016 Chicago Cubs
2017 Houston Astros
2018 Boston Red Sox

2016 Chicago Cubs
2017 Los Angeles Dodgers
2018 Boston Red Sox

2016 Chicago Cubs
2017 Houston Astros
2018 Boston Red Sox

I disagree with the middle option because the Yankees beating the Dodgers is a lot more likely than Andreas Berger (5th in Ben's semi-final) beating even Linford Christie. The first and last options are both based on actual events.
   12. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2020 at 11:41 PM (#5925777)
Right, it's not re-writing history it's writing "championshp revoked." You want to go look up the newspaper accounts, nobody is stopping you. If b-r wants to keep the stats, that's fine. Less clear whether to let Springer "keep" his WS MVP but it's not lost to history.

On the Wiki TdF winners page, the names are crossed out and there are footnotes attached:

A. ^ Bjarne Riis has admitted to doping during the 1996 Tour de France. The organizers of the Tour de France have stated that they no longer consider him to be the winner, although Union Cycliste Internationale has so far refused to change the official status owing to the amount of time that has passed since his win. Jan Ullrich was placed second on the podium in Paris.[28]

B. a b c d e f g h Lance Armstrong was declared winner of seven consecutive Tours from 1999 to 2005. However, in October 2012 he was stripped of all titles by the UCI owing to his use of performance-enhancing drugs. The Tour director Christian Prudhomme had previously declared that if this happened, there would be no alternative winners for those years, but this has not yet been made official.[29]

C. a b Floyd Landis was the winner at the podium ceremony in Paris on the last day of the 2006 Tour, but subsequently was found to have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during stage 17 of the race. The United States Anti-Doping Agency found him guilty of using synthetic testosterone during the race and stripped him of his title on 20 September 2007.[30]

D. a b c Alberto Contador was the winner at the podium ceremony in Paris on the last day of the 2010 Tour, but subsequently was found to have tested positive for the prohibited substance Clenbuterol on a rest day. The Court of Arbitration for Sport found him guilty of using clenbuterol during the race and stripped him of his title on 6 February 2012.[31]

E. ^ Henri Cornet was declared the winner of 1904 race after the disqualification of Maurice Garin for cheating.

The Garin story:

Garin also won the 1904 Tour de France, by a small margin over Lucien Pothier, but was subsequently stripped of the title which was awarded to Henri Cornet. The race aroused a passion among spectators, who felled trees to hold back rivals and beat up others at night outside St-Étienne.[6] Garin was one of the mob's victims. Pierre Chany wrote:

In the climb of the col de la République, leaving St-Étienne, supporters of the regional rider, Faure, assault the Italian, Gerbi. He is thrown to the ground, beaten like plaster. He escapes with a broken finger...[6]

... A bunch of fanatics wielded sticks and shouted insults, setting on the other riders: Maurice and César Garin got a succession of blows, the older brother [Maurice] was hit in the face with a stone. Soon there was general mayhem: "Up with Faure! Down with Garin! Kill them!" they were shouting. Finally cars arrived and the riders could get going thanks to pistol shots. The aggressors disappeared into the night.[6]

Garin said: "I'll win the Tour de France provided I'm not murdered before we get to Paris."[23][24]

Misbehaviour was rife too between riders and nine were thrown out during the race for, among other things, riding in or being pulled by cars.[5] There were claims, too, that the organisers had allowed Garin to break rules — at one stage being given food where it was not permitted by its chief official — because his sponsor, La Française, had a financial stake in the race.[25]

The French cycling union, the Union Vélocipédique Française, heard from dozens of competitors and witnesses and in December disqualified all the stage winners and the first four finishers: Garin, Pothier, César Garin, and Hippolyte Aucouturier.[26] The UVF did not say precisely what had happened[27] and the details were lost when Tour archives were transported south in 1940 to avoid the German invasion and never seen again. Stories spread of riders spreading tacks on the road to delay rivals with punctures, of riders being poisoned by each other or by rival fans. Lucien Petit-Breton said he complained to an official that he had seen a rival hanging on to a motorcycle, only to have the cheating rider pull out a revolver.[28]

Tales were also said to include 'Garin taking a train', a claim confirmed by a cemetery attendant looking after his grave who, as a boy, heard Garin tell his stories as an old man.[4] In December 1904 Garin was stripped of his title and banned for two years.[4]


EDIT: And of course "championship revoked because the Houston Astros engaged in systemic, team-side cheating for most of the 2017 season and playoffs" would be writing history accurately not rewriting it by pretending that their championship was the same as all the others.

EDIT2: The main argument against revoking the championship IMO is that you then have to decide where to draw the line. Is the 1951 NL pennant revoked based on evidence brought forward decades later? How severe does the cheating need to be to merit the penalty? What if an individual player cheats? If the gamblers had only asked the White Sox to throw 3 games or if they'd had the guts and actually tried to win the series after throwing 3, should they still be WS champs?
   13. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: February 21, 2020 at 12:24 AM (#5925779)
So we’re back to “MLB can’t punish players for cheating unless it anticipates their exact cheating scheme in advance, negotiates with them for exactly how they will be punished, and includes express language in the CBA for exactly that type of cheating.”

Well, they did anticipate it, that was contemplated by the memo in [5,6]. That memo specifically warned that management would be punished for violations. It also put the onus on management to get the message out to players. I am sure this was done intentionally so that for any future violation, Manfred would be able to point to his prior warning when punishing management. But any punished player would be able to say that the memo omitted to mention punishments for them. Sort of a before-the-fact cop out by Manfred.
   14. Mayor Blomberg Posted: February 21, 2020 at 12:44 AM (#5925780)
Right, it's not re-writing history it's writing "championshp revoked." You want to go look up the newspaper accounts, nobody is stopping you. If b-r wants to keep the stats, that's fine. Less clear whether to let Springer "keep" his WS MVP but it's not lost to history.


Right. It never was for all the weeks that people have been saying it because it sounds so dark and evil that it can substitute for argument.

& no, why should springier keep an MVP that's as tainted as the championship? You revoke all of it.
   15. Ron J Posted: February 21, 2020 at 07:58 AM (#5925797)
#9 No. The real key is that any new discipline must be negotiated, not imposed. There's nothing preventing MLB and the PA from negotiating a broad set of rules relating to (but not limited to) electronic devices and organized cheating schemes.

MLB has rarely been interested in this type of negotiation. They didn't so much turn a blind eye to PEDs as lose a long series of hearings related to their attempts to impose disciplinary rules (granted mostly related to recreational drugs but those ruling would have carried over to PEDs in the absence of specific agreements)

Or they could negotiate to a "duty to report" (as is present in the gambling rules). That in itself could have shut the scheme down. (Yeah, probably not considering the general culture of the game)

For example, there's all sorts of precedents on the books for in-game cheating (and the CBA spells out that precedent must be considered in discipline cases).

So the current issue is different from (say) corking bats or spitballs? As it happens I agree. But what defines that difference? What's the appeals process? Top end penalties. Etc. The broader the framework the tighter the procedures need to be nailed down.
   16. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: February 21, 2020 at 09:08 AM (#5925807)
I'm starting to come around on revoking the Championship. Don't do the silly NCAA crap and pretend Houston was 0-61 that year, but adding an asterisk saying the title was vacated for cheating seems good.

The Astros have just been such ######## about this, it seems like more punishment is needed.
   17. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 21, 2020 at 10:48 AM (#5925835)

Or they could negotiate to a "duty to report" (as is present in the gambling rules).

Ron, I asked this in another thread but not sure if you saw it: I have seen a rule that players are required to report if they are approached with an offer to throw games. I have not seen a duty to report on teammates who gambled. Can you refer to the actual rule in question?
   18. Sunday silence Posted: February 21, 2020 at 11:13 AM (#5925844)

I'm starting to come around on revoking the Championship. Don't do the silly NCAA crap...


I think its the only option Manfred has to avoid having this cloud over the entire season. theres a lot of reasons to do this:

one is that its the only way to bring closure to the situation. Imagine if in Watergate they gave John Dean immunity and others too. And then they said "Hey its OK, Nixon can stay in office we just wanted to get to the bottom of it." there's really no pt. to immunity unless you intend to press forward with penalties, whether its suspensions or losing a title. Obviously suspension is off the table due to the immunity, losing the title is all that's left in the way of punishment.

What about precedent? What does this say for the future? Are people going to say "well the HOU team got off scot free why should we vacate the title over this? Send a freakin Strong MEssage: Take Away the title. and any accured benefits (Awards, cash etc) if that's practical. THis would set a strong future precedent.

3. Just about anything else. there's a war within baseball itself but this goes back to no. 1.
   19. Sunday silence Posted: February 21, 2020 at 11:14 AM (#5925846)
Gold Carl Lewis 9.93
Silver Raymond Stewart 10.08
Bronze Linford Christie 10.14


So if Raymond Stewart said he wasnt really trying all that hard you'd take away Lewis's title?
   20. pikepredator Posted: February 21, 2020 at 12:49 PM (#5925887)
Vacating is silly to me. But adding a line about ‘this team was found guilty of widespread sign stealing throughout the season’ is a scarlet lettering I very much support. They did win the WS and celebrate and all that. Just as I’m fine with A-Rod in the Hall, and noting his PED suspensions on his plaque.
   21. Ron J Posted: February 21, 2020 at 01:18 PM (#5925901)
#17 Rule 21a is not well written in my opinion. Because of the way it's written (one lonnnnnnnng sentence) I assumed the duty to report covered all aspects of Rule 21.

And certainly there's precedent for suspension for "guilty knowledge". Buck Weaver, Joe Gedeon and in particular Rube Benton.

Benton's interesting because he was permanently banned for guilty knowledge of the Black Sox fix (even though he didn't play for them. And thus was only supposed to be suspended for a year). He was reinstated though. Officially for his help with the investigation, but it allowed MLB to follow the official rules without admitting they'd overstepped.
   22. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 21, 2020 at 03:12 PM (#5925927)
Thanks Ron. This is a digression from the topic at hand, but I read rule 21a as saying that if they are personally solicited to throw a game, they have an obligation to report it (there may be an obligation

...or who, being solicited by any person, shall fail to inform the Commissioner (in the case of a player or person associated with a Major League Club) or the President of the Minor League Association (in the case of a player or person associated with an independent Minor League Club) immediately of such solicitation, and of all facts and circumstances connected therewith, shall be declared permanently ineligible."


(emphasis added)

I don't think the rule was in place in 1919, but Weaver was supposedly there for the pitch from the gamblers so his case would fall under 21a based on my reading anyway. Not sure about the other two.
   23. Ron J Posted: February 21, 2020 at 07:32 PM (#5925962)
The rules about no gambling actually predate organized leagues. And the current rules aren't that different from those that the NA had.

That said, Landis did add the rules about guilty knowledge and applied them retroactively. His position though was that they were implicitly part of the rules and he was just making them clear.

Don't think he'd have convinced an arbitrator but I have been wrong about rulings before. And there was a major crisis to clean up and I know that can matter.
   24. Random Transaction Generator Posted: February 22, 2020 at 12:37 AM (#5925977)
But adding a line about ‘this team was found guilty of widespread sign stealing throughout the season’ is a scarlet lettering I very much support....Just as I’m fine with A-Rod in the Hall, and noting his PED suspensions on his plaque.


Does MLB then also put similar lines beside all the MVP awards that were won, and all of the AL/NL pennants and World Series won by teams with aforementioned PED users? Or teams that had players that used corked bats? Or pitchers that doctored baseballs?


   25. Random Transaction Generator Posted: February 22, 2020 at 12:44 AM (#5925978)
When MLB realized they couldn't punish the Astros players, they should have doubled-down on the punishment for the team. They needed something so horrific that all future teams would do everything in their power to stop it from happening to their franchise.

$50million in fines (or no revenue sharing for one season, whichever is worse)
Loss of all draft picks for 3 seasons
No international signings for 3 seasons
Hitting coach, bench coach, manager, GM, team president all banned from MLB for 3 seasons

And then announce that all of these punishments will be doubled for the next team that is caught systematically cheating like the Astros were.

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