Astros say they are sorry, but are they re­ally?

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Sch­muck

SARA­SOTA, Fla. — Nowthat the Hous­ton Astros have held a well- or­ches­trated news con­fer­ence and apol­o­gized for the sign-steal­ing scheme that soiled their 2017 World Series cham­pi­onship, I guess we’re sup­posed to get on with our lives and let them get on with theirs.

Maybe it is that sim­ple, since it’s ob­vi­ous Ma­jor League Base­ball wants to get this ugly sit­u­a­tion be­hind it. But the fact that there will be no tan­gi­ble con­se­quences for the play­ers who fi­nally took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the scan­dal or the or­ga­ni­za­tion that ap­par­ently will keep that ill-got­ten tro­phy makes the re­morse ring hol­low.

There have been calls for base­ball Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred to strip the Astros of the ti­tle, and there has been un­der­stand­able out­rage that the play­ers who co­op­er­ated with the MLB in­ves­ti­ga­tion were given im­mu­nity from the pun­ish­ment they richly de­serve for cor­rupt­ing an en­tire sea­son.

In­stead, Man­fred chose to play the prag­ma­tist, mak­ing ex­am­ples of Astros

gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now and man­ager A.J. Hinch (who were quickly fired), tak­ing away the club’s top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021, and fin­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion $5 mil­lion.

That sent a strong mes­sage to any­one who might con­sider en­gag­ing in sim­i­lar be­hav­ior in the fu­ture while only putting an imag­i­nary as­ter­isk be­side the 2017 post­sea­son.

The only other in­di­vid­u­als to be di­rectly pe­nal­ized for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the scheme were Bos­ton Red Sox man­ager Alex Cora and New York Mets man­ager Car­los Bel­tran, who were dis­missed by those teams soon af­ter the re­sults of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and the Astros penal­ties were an­nounced.

Man­fred ba­si­cally in­sti­tuted a new dis­ci­plinary prece­dent that is sim­i­lar to the “lack of in­sti­tu­tional con­trol” stan­dard employed by the NCAA. In ef­fect, it serves no­tice that top club ex­ec­u­tives can­not plead ig­no­rance about in­sti­tu­tional wrong­do­ing that is out of their field of vi­sion.

Of course, the NCAA has used that jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to im­pose bans on fu­ture post­sea­son par­tic­i­pa­tion by of­fend­ing schools, some­thing that would be lo­gis­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble for a pro­fes­sional sport be­cause it would neg­a­tively af­fect all of the other fran­chises that share in in­dus­try rev­enue.

Though Man­fred could have stripped the Astros of their 2017 Amer­i­can League pen­nant and World Series ti­tle, he de­cided to let history judge the le­git­i­macy of it, just as history has judged the records and awards that are still in pos­ses­sion of ac­cused steroid of­fend­ers such as Barry Bonds, Roger Cle­mens and Mark McGwire.

Thurs­day’s news con­fer­ence at the Astros/Na­tion­als spring training com­plex and the club­house in­ter­view avail­abil­ity that fol­lowed gave team of­fi­cials and play­ers the op­por­tu­nity to for­mally apol­o­gize to base­ball fans, who can de­cide for them­selves whether that con­tri­tion was sin­cere.

That’s going to be a tough sell for a lot of people out­side the Astros fan base as long as owner Jim Crane con­tin­ues to ad­vance the no­tion that the elab­o­rate sign-steal­ing op­er­a­tion did not help the Astros de­feat the New York Yan­kees in the AL Cham­pi­onship Series or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

“Our opinion is that this didn’t im­pact the game,” Crane said. “We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

Re­ally? So the play­ers just cre­ated this elab­o­rate sign-steal­ing sys­tem be­cause they were hop­ing to en­ter it in the sci­ence fair?

There isn’t enough room here to list all of the out-of-whack statis­tics that sug­gest the op­po­site.

While José Al­tuve ap­peared to be gen­uinely re­morse­ful in a tele­vised in­ter­view at his locker, he seemed to dodge ques­tions about the widely cir­cu­lated sus­pi­cion that he was wear­ing an elec­tronic sig­nal­ing de­vice un­der his jersey when he hit his mem­o­rable walk-off home run off Yan­kees closer Aroldis Chap­man in the 2019 ALCS.

Al­tuve and some of his team­mates chose to cite the fact that the MLB in­ves­ti­ga­tion failed to prove that any­one wore buzzers rather than sim­ply re­spond­ing with a defini­tive de­nial.

Glad they cleared that up.

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