There has been a healthy debate online spurred by the Houston Astros cheating scandal that has quickly become MLB’s cheating scandal as the fingers of deceit have spread due to player and coach movement. Some people debate how the punishment should be doled out. Others have taken a stance that they would happily have their team, specifically the Pirates, cheat in order to have the World Series victory the Astros experienced. This is the one that caught my eye, and something I can’t just pretend is okay.
I’m not here to tell you the Pirates aren’t in desperate times. I can’t even tell you they shouldn’t actively seek every competitive advantage they can find to win. That said, cheating is not something we should want as a fan base. In the world of sport, there is little more vile or disgusting.
The most famous example of cheating wasn’t even an effort to win, the infamous Black Sox allegedly threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, despite an acquittal in a public trial the young league appointed their first commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis and granted him absolute power to restore integrity to the game. He used his power to permanently ban all eight men from professional baseball.
You see that’s the thing with these scandals, no matter the outcome or the allegation, they often lead to permanent changes to the league, and rarely achieve the goal of eliminating the black eye those in charge intended to mend.
Pete Rose gambled on the game. While nobody can say with assurance that he bet on or against himself or his team, once the seed of doubt is planted there is little the imagination can’t come up with. It called into question every game that Pete was involved in and simultaneously destroyed the integrity of the Hall of Fame. The argument that Pete should be in or out is largely irrelevant, because the effect isn’t going to change either way. At this point his guilt or innocence wouldn’t change a single mind.
That’s how scandal works, everyone sides up and takes their version of the perceived moral high-ground. What really hurts is that we are no longer rooting together for a good clean game between 50 of the best athletes in the world, and turns into every call being questioned, everyone wondering who isn’t on the level.
Arguably the biggest until recently was the steroid scandal. The funny part here is baseball and the fans turned a blind eye to the rampant amphetamine abuse of the seventies. Hell, we even made a folk hero out of Dock Ellis tossing a no hitter on acid. If you think neither of those could give you a competitive advantage, I’ll wager (don’t worry I'm not eligible for the Hall anyway) you haven’t tried either of these, but that sure didn’t stop anyone from calling the steroids users on the carpet.
Maybe that’s because steroids visibly altered the physical attributes of the players. Maybe it’s because records we held so dear were broken. Perhaps the Federal Government inserting themselves into the situation and grandstanding on a subject they have no business being involved in upped the ante. Any way you look at it, there is no way to believe everyone who used was caught, and no way to prove many who were accused did the deed.
Houston took all this to a brand-new level. Using the very technology that is already doing it’s damnedest to destroy the game they took a time-honored tradition of gamesmanship and blew way past any possible grey areas in order to commit fraud on a pitch-by-pitch basis. It's very hard to believe that everyone involved has been caught or punished. It’s impossible to see beyond it even if you really want to for players and coaches you have come to respect like Joe Musgrove or Don Kelly.
All of this leads to my utter disgust that anyone would suggest cheating being an acceptable trade off for short term success. No matter how long you’ve waited, no matter how much you see no other avenue to reach it, success is not a worthy reward for throwing your honor in the toilet. The Pittsburgh Pirates may never win it all again, I don’t really believe that but if I had to accept it as a reality, I’d prefer it to cheating.
Fans can say whatever they like about the current state of the club. You can dream about a day when the Feds storm the offices on Federal Street and escort Bob Nutting out in cuffs for being cheap. You can suggest they trade all their bad players for Mike Trout. There is one suggestion that shouldn’t have a place in our conversations as fans, that they do something awful instead of putting in the hard work to bring us a championship. A championship we can be proud of, not tainted by becoming a league-wide pariah who even non-baseball fans shun.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007