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Amid Astros scandal, 'the high road' won't win their opponents any glory

Tim Brown
MLB columnist

The game asks that you trust it. You, in return, ask if what you see is real.

That’s the relationship.

It’s not about the money or the rules or the ad campaign or for how many hours one must endure a 19-inch plastic seat in order to witness an outcome.

Only, is the score honest? Are those guys there better than those guys over there today?

That is the competition. Everything else is tug of war with your puppy. 

Anything less goes on your career gravestone.

The Houston Astros of three memorable baseball seasons — the games they won, the champions they were, the illusions they created — were gone in an hour Monday, first in the body of a nine-page missive from the office of their commissioner, then in the sober reaction of their boss. General manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch were suspended by the league, then fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. The team’s coming drafts were thinned by four early-round players. The players were unsanctioned and will answer for themselves. Or not. They have not rushed to defend themselves or their manager, not for two months.

Maybe the Astros can still be great. Maybe they never were. Their record was impressive. Do you trust the games?

To the sanctions, the broad reaction befitted a league that keeps its secrets close and its opinions closer. Hinch, once among the managers and men most likely to be above this sort of behavior, expressed personal regret. Luhnow, on brand, said he regretted employing cheaters. Then everyone turned toward Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, the apparent protagonist in commissioner Rob Manfred’s tale and, as Hinch’s former bench coach, an easy mark. (It was too late to blame the assistant GM; he’d already been discredited and fired.)

In the lead-up to Monday’s announcement, Manfred directed clubs to refrain from commenting on those specific penalties or even the situation in general, an odd manner in which to promote a fresh — and needed — transparency. Off the record, then, came general agreement that Luhnow and Hinch were punished rather severely (and this was before they were fired) though not incorrectly, and that the franchise otherwise got off lightly, that Cora ought to duck.

Said one National League executive: “Ask me if I’d trade four draft picks and $5 million for a World Series championship. Every day of the week.”

The careers of the general manager and manager, presumably, would be acceptable casualties in the scenario.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were cast as the real losers. They’d succumbed to the Astros in a seven-game World Series in 2017 that seemed especially relevant after the following clause, culled from Manfred’s third page on Monday:

“[T]he Astros continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the [2017] regular season and throughout the Postseason.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watched his team fall in two straight World Series, then watched as each of the opponents were implicated in sign-stealing scandals. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB via Getty Images)

It is, perhaps, one thing to lose a World Series in seven games, another to two years later learn why. Also, the 2018 Red Sox are under investigation for similar transgressions. They won a World Series, too, at Dodger Stadium.

Dave Roberts, manager of those Dodgers teams, sighed at the memory, at Monday’s news, at the probability he’d been done in by Hinch and Cora, two of his better friends in the game, at the whole thing. He first cited the commissioner’s edict to stay off the topic, then admitted those Octobers had been on his mind lately.

“With what’s transpired it’s obviously brought things back to life as far as ‘17 and ‘18,” he said. “In that moment, it’s very difficult, because it’s in real time.

“But I think that me, speaking for the organization, the players, the coaches, I felt we prepared the right way. Unfortunately we came up short. It’s always easier for other people to give opinions. I understand I could say things more pointedly. I feel it’s better when I take the high road. Today, it’s not going to change anything.”

Nope.

There are still a lot of games back there that can no longer defend themselves. There is a World Series championship, maybe two, that doesn’t look earned. There is a franchise that rose from nothing, that became something, that is dishonored. Two men, maybe three, have lost their careers.

Worse, there are games ahead that will have to defend themselves. There are seasons ahead subject to the same drumbeat that was the Astros’ theme song. There are teams out there that will measure Monday’s carnage against the benefits of the way they’ve always done things, the wins that have resulted, and the games that won’t be trusted.

That’s the relationship. The men who play those games, who manage them, who desecrate them, who live with those decisions, well, sometimes they’ll have to live with a day like Monday, too.

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