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In 2017, the Houston Astros completed one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Major League Baseball history. Four years after finishing with the worst record in the league, the team won the World Series.
It’s recently been determined, however, that the Astros used more than timely hitting and strong pitching to capture that title. An extensive MLB investigation revealed that the team used video cameras to determine opposing pitchers’ upcoming pitches to provide Houston’s batters with an unfair advantage, a major violation of league rules.
The fallout from the cheating scandal has been significant. Houston was fined $5 million and lost draft picks. The team’s general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were fired.
Carlos Beltran lost his job as new manager for the New York Mets because of his role in the scheme when he was a player. The Boston Red Sox fired their manager Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.
Cora led the Red Sox to a World Series title in 2018. The MLB is currently investigating allegations that Boston used a similar system of cheating during their championship run.
Why there’s debate
Though the punishments handed out by commissioner Rob Manfred are some of the harshest ever dealt to MLB teams, many have argued they don’t go far enough. Fans, commentators, players and even some unnamed team owners have called for the Astros to have their World Series title vacated. Their argument is simple: Houston won the championship fraudulently and, therefore, shouldn’t be able to celebrate it going forward. The discontent is especially pronounced among supporters of the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, the final two teams Houston beat en route to the title.
Others argue that vacating the title would be a mostly symbolic move that wouldn’t right the wrongs of the past. There are also questions about the practical issues that would come along with erasing events from the record books and concerns of legal issues that could arise. Leaving the title intact would be consistent with how the league has handled individual records set by players, like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, accused of using performance enhancers.
Controversy stemming from the scandal appears to be far from over. Beyond questions about the Astros’ World Series title and the investigation into the Red Sox, there are also calls for the individual players involved to be punished. In recent days, new rumors about how the Astros carried out their scheme have emerged. One former player also accused the Chicago White Sox of using a camera-aided sign-stealing system in the 1980s.
MLB is reportedly looking into technological solutions to protect communications between pitchers and catchers in the future.
Allowing them to keep the title vindicates cheating
“Do you know what wasn’t suspended? The Astros’ World Series banner. Do you know what wasn’t fired? Their World Series rings. ...Is it worth it? Unless MLB decides to vacate their title, it’s hard to say it wasn’t.” — Mike Oz, Yahoo Sports
The Dodgers deserve to be remembered fairly in record books
“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 Dodgers didn’t win it on the field, but history should forever note that nobody beat them.” — Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times
Vacating the title would be a lasting punishment worthy of the offense
“Make them take down the banner at Minute Maid Park and vacate all records of their title. If you don’t think that hurts, ask the players from the 2004 USC football team how they feel about the Trojans being forced to return the national championship trophy because of NCAA rules violations.” — Bob Brookover, Philadelphia Inquirer
There’s no question that cheating directly contributed to their victory
“Let’s keep it real, they have a championship that there's a good chance they don’t deserve. We can say with confidence that the Astros cheated on the playing field and therefore didn’t deserve that World Series ring.” — Chris Broussard, Fox Sports
Even though they cheated, the Astros won the games
“M.L.B. wisely did not vacate the Astros’ title, which would have been meaningless and intellectually dishonest; the Astros did, in fact, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.” — Tyler Kepner, New York Times
The punishments already handed down are effective
“They were harsh enough to get across what Manfred wanted to deliver: That those who cross the line by using technology to cheat do so at the peril of losing their jobs and perhaps their right to ever participate in Major League Baseball again.” — Joel Sherman, New York Post
Erasing titles means pretending the past didn’t happen
“The title could be vacated, of course. All of the 2017 wins could be vacated. But that does not balance the scales so much as it asks everyone to simply ignore that they had previously had a thumb of unknowable influence on them. It is not justice.” — Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated
Vacating titles can further harm the legitimacy of sports leagues
“The logistics of rewriting seasons would be murky, and leagues’ reasons to avoid doing so are sound. ... Institutions that are more willing to rewrite record books—often those overseeing individual or amateur sports—can end up damaging their own relevance and reputation in attempts to clarify history.” — Robert O’Connell, The Atlantic
The players association would stand in the way of vacating the title
“Even if Manfred wanted to do something as extreme as vacating a World Series championship, he is exceptionally limited in making it happen without going to war with the MLBPA. There would be legal challenges. It would be, in other words, exceptionally messy.” — Maury Brown, Forbes
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: David J. Phillip/AP