Cheating isn’t unique to the Astros

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

For the past few weeks, every time I open my closet in the morning to get ready for the day, I’ll see my Astros jersey hanging there, the blue and orange peeking from in between my jackets and flannels, and feel a pang of disappointment. I wonder when I’ll be able to wear it proudly again without feeling slightly heartbroken and angry about what’s transpired in the past few months.

But one of the things that frustrates me the most is that people are using Houston as a scapegoat for something that happens all over baseball.

I’m not trying to take the blame away from the Astros for a very clear violation of trust and integrity, but cheating in baseball is not new and acting like this is the only organization that has used devices to steal signs is both hypocritical and naive.

It has happened throughout the history of the game. From the San Francisco Giants placing spies with binoculars in the stands of the stadium in the 1950s to the Kansas City Royals rigging the digital clock at Municipal Stadium to tip off pitches. And to go further back to 1900, the Phillies had devised a scheme where they received the stolen signs in Morse-code through a receiver placed under the third-base coaching box.

Trying to gain an advantage in baseball has been part of the game’s unwritten rules for as old as baseball has existed. But how you gain that advantage and whether you get caught is what determines if it’s considered cheating.

Jason Turbow writes about baseball’s unwritten rules in “The Baseball Codes,” which explains “the code” in four parts through anecdotes and stories that have occurred throughout baseball history. Part three deals with the subject of cheating and chapter 18 is even titled “If You’re Not Cheating, You’re Not Trying.”

“There is cheating in baseball like there is cheating in all sports, because competitive instincts direct players toward any possible advantage,” Turbow wrote.

Stealing signs using tricks like those mentioned above or through other technological means has never really been accepted. In his book, Turbow uses a quote by one of baseball’s greatest writers, Walter ‘Red’ Smith from 1950 in which Smith writes:

“Bootling information to the batter through a hidden observer equipped with field glasses is a dastardly deed. But the coach who can stand on the third-base line and, using his own eyes and intelligence, tap the enemy’s line of communication, is justly admired for his acuteness.”

The issue with what the Astros did compared to what is more usually tolerated in baseball is that the players, who not only got away with a slap on the wrist but didn’t seem to act like they felt any remorse at all, did not need to go through something that elaborate to win games. The Astros roster had baseball talent oozing from every place it could ooze from. Cheating wasn’t necessary.

Now that they’ve been caught and punished perhaps we’ll see some sort of change, although the pessimist in me highly doubts it.

Yes, Houston lost it’s manager and general manager along with four high draft picks, but as much as I admired A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow for the way they turned around the team after a decade of being the worst team in baseball, it’s time for someone else to take over. What’s really going to hurt the Astros is loss of those draft picks as the farm system is shaping up to be one of the league’s worst.

If Major League Baseball truly wanted the culture to change, they would have done something about it already. At the end of the day, baseball is so much more than a game. It’s a business and a way of life. Everyone is trying to gain an edge and if they tell you otherwise they’re lying.

“We’re raised to believe that cheating is bad, that truthfulness and integrity make the man,” Turbow wrote. “We warn against cheating in school, look with indignation at cheating spouses, and above all proclaim that cheaters never win.

That last part, of course, is factually inaccurate. Cheaters do win. They win a lot. It’s why they cheat. And in professional sports, where every athlete seeks every advantage that can be comfortably tolerated (and some that can’t) the concept of cheating is continually stretched to its maximum breath.”