On Wednesday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced its punishment for the Boston Red Sox, who used technology to steal signs during their 2018 World Series run. The penalties for the Red Sox are as follows:
- Loss of 2020 second round draft pick
- Ban of replay operator J.T. Watkins through 2020 and from doing the same job in 2021
- Ban of Alex Cora through 2020 playoffs (for behavior not with Boston, but the Astros)
Overall, this set of penalties seems light for a league that is trying to discourage cheating and put the sign-stealing scandal in the past. After seeing the Astros' soft punishment, it is not surprising to learn that the Red Sox received an even softer set of penalties. However, in this case, the biggest loser appears to be J.T. Watkins, the replay operator, and I'm not sure if anyone predicted that. Heck, besides the loss of the 2020 second-rounder, these penalties seem mighty random, as Cora is no longer with the team.
These penalties are also inconsistent with Kenesaw Mountain Landis' lifetime bans for the eight players involved in conspiring to lose the 1919 World Series. In that case, all players got the same harsh punishment, though some were not as guilty as others. For example, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver posted better numbers in the World Series than they did during the regular season. This was the case despite the fact that their World Series opponents had one of the best pitching staffs in the majors (the Reds' ERA+ was 126, No. 2 overall).
The lifetime ban has even further implications, as Jackson would have otherwise been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. During his career, Jackson slashed .356/.423/.517 (165 wRC+) with 60.5 fWAR and 62.1 bWAR. Based on Jackson's final season, when he slashed .382/.444/.589, he had plenty of good baseball left, too.
Even if we believe that Jackson (and Weaver, for that matter) are just as guilty as, say, ringleader Chick Gandil, there is another factor to consider. All players received a lifetime ban, and all of their lives have ended. Therefore, they have paid the price to baseball (which is seemingly a far higher price than anything that would possibly be issued today).
For every wrongdoing, there is normally a range of acceptable penalties to hand out. It is important to remain in that range and be fairly consistent. If the league is going to continue punishments for players who have already paid their debts, then it does not make sense to issue such light penalties for players who have recently bent the rules for their advantage. After all, the league should be doing what it can to prevent cheating in the future, and the penalties given out this offseason leave much to be desired.
The league's soft punishments in response to the sign-stealing scandal have reinforced this idea: It is time to reinstate Jackson and Weaver.