As I’m sure everyone reading this already knows — and if you don’t, I’m sorry to be the one to break the news to you — the Red Sox were wrapped up in MLB’s sign-stealing scandal yesterday. Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal reported, with multiple sources who were with the team at the time, that, in 2018, Boston was using the video replay room to steal opponents’ pitch-calling sequences and relay them to baserunners, who then relayed them to the hitter at the plate. It is very clearly crossing the line of using technology to steal signs and it dampers the mystique of that historic team a bit.
It probably shouldn’t be too surprising, as Alex Cora was caught in the middle of the Astros sign-stealing scandal from 2017 as well. It was naive to think nothing was going to come over to Boston from that, but until we had any information it was possible to kind of stick our heads in the sand, which is admittedly the route I took. Now, it’s time to come up for air. It’s not great! I will say the process doesn’t sound as egregious as the Astros’, but it’s also important to note that, well, that really doesn’t matter a whole hell of a lot at the end of the day.
As has become somewhat common in cases where people are caught doing something wrong — whether it be the Patriots in all of their stuff or the steroid era or, well, anything you do as a teenager — the excuses have started to flow from some. Obviously this is not everyone, but a couple of themes have emerged after this story broke. One is that it was just so darn easy to cheat, how could the league not expect teams to take advantage of them? Another is that it wasn’t just the Red Sox. Everyone was doing it!
Now, these aren’t, technically speaking, wrong. Should the league make this more difficult than having a room with cameras focused on home plate just feet away from dugouts? Absolutely. Should they just get rid of the team challenge system altogether? I would argue yes, and would have before this whole thing even came to light! Are their almost certainly other teams beyond the Red Sox and Astros using technology in one way or another to steal signs? I would be surprised if the answer was no! Just because that stuff is true, however, doesn’t mean it matters.
A lot of these arguments are pretty much, to a T, the same arguments teams and fans use in defense of service time manipulation. In both cases, it’s just looked at as a necessary evil that competitive teams do to win more games in the future. People say the rules make it so easy to get away with it it would be irresponsible not to do it. (To be clear, service time manipulation is illegal, it’s just really hard to enforce.) Other teams do it, so you’d be doing yourself a disservice by not partaking yourself. It’s the same argument on both issues, and it rings hollow in both cases.
At the end of the day, individuals and organizations have to be held responsible for simply doing the right thing even if it’s easy not to. It is the definition of ethics, and for some reason in sports we’ve kind of gotten away from just expecting even mildly ethical behavior. The game, after all, hinges on everyone competing on a level and fair playing field. If things like cheating — which this Red Sox sign-stealing system undoubtedly is — are just going to be hand waved, then what are we even doing? What are we watching?
And, to be clear, this is not me trying to get on my moral high horse. I have most definitely done plenty of things on my life which were not on the right side of ethical and where I had opportunities to take a shortcut and took it, regardless of consequences. I think that’s life for just about everyone, and it’s human nature for baseball players to at least consider this. The point here isn’t that any of those arguments are necessarily wrong, but rather that it’s not an excuse. Competitiveness is not an excuse. Everyone else is doing it is not an excuse. At the end of the day, everyone involved here is an adult, and part of being an adult is owning up to your own actions when the time comes without making excuses.
The league is going to come down hard on both the Red Sox and Astros, as this scandal is getting a little out of control and optically they just do not need this. And they absolutely should come down hard. The Red Sox cheated, they got caught, and in the process they tainted a truly special season. The degree to which the year was tainted varies from person to person and really isn’t possible to quantify and I’m not sure it’s even worth debating. What I am sure about is that the Red Sox are responsible for their own actions here and they can’t just point at how easy the league made it or that other teams probably did it too. This is an organization full of adults, and they don’t need your help making excuses.