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On the cheating and lying

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One is bad. The other is worse.

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Workout Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

From what I can tell it’s been a bad week around here! For reasons I’m too lazy to get into I haven’t yet subscribed to the Athletic, so I haven’t read Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal’s apparent bombshell revelation that the Red Sox systematically stole signs during 2018’s title run, but I’m willing to concede all of it, up front, because I’m sure it’s true. The Astros clearly did it in 2017 and the Red Sox almost certainly did it two years ago, and since they’re just the ones that were caught I’m willing to bet there are dozens more.

The whole scandal is literally a joke. Carlos Beltrán earned his stripes as a Yankees bench coach and, in giggling asides, was revealed to be an expert sign stealer. It is not hard to connect the dots from Boston to Alex Cora back to Houston, look in tandem with the Beltrán hiring, and suspect sign-stealing is a discrete qualification for getting managing job rather than a black mark.

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising when the owners are also systematically stealing from the players, but it feels gross and wrong, even if in some ways an outgrowth of the natural competitiveness of everyone involved. That argument alone -- that it’s okay because they really want to win -- is silly on its own, because it would excuse a lot more, but it is surely a supplemental factor. They really, really want to win.

For that at least we can be glad. The only saving grace of this affair, as with the steroid era, is that the players are trying to be good, but at this point it’s fair to say that the “scandals” are as much features of the game as they are bugs. There’s also a winner’s curse, insofar as some fans, to use a scientific term, hate us because they ain’t us. Baseball players will always look for an edge, and where best to start but with the champs?

None of that excuses the Red Sox in any of this or makes it any more palatable. It sure seems like Cora isn’t going anywhere, and if the Sox were actually concerned you’d think they’d have cut bait on him immediately. Given that A.J. Hinch is still around in Houston and Beltrán is newly employed in Queens, one suspects that the organization is going to take a body blow from the league in terms of fines or draft picks but otherwise plow forward as normal. That’s how you’ll know they don’t really care about all of it, just as I don’t, in principle, but it’s only going to get worse.

They’ll probably still try to cheat, too. Bill Belichick has shown the way on this: You don’t stop because they caught you, because that’s exactly what they’d expect. And I have to be honest the cheating itself doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it does some others, mostly because I am selfish and like good baseball and I got to see 2018 with my eyes and liked it and really do figure that this is more a forever problem than something neat and tidy to shunt away.

The part that bothers me hasn’t happened yet. It’s the lying, and it’s coming as sure as the tide. At least during the steroid era the lying was a means of self-preservation, whereas now it’ll be simply a way to stall before the world falls apart in a more consequential way and the trending topics update. It’s frightfully simple and ultimately, like the Sox’s payroll shenanigans, it’ll work because we ultimately love the Red Sox too much to give them up and like seeing them beat the hell out of other baseball teams from time to time.

No what bothers me is that, as with the Mookie Betts nonsense and all the other hedge-fund stupidity the Sox are up to, they will talk around any real concerns up to and maybe to the point of being offended by them, and no further, and it will remain as frustrating as ever to root for a team that was on top of the world 15 months ago. Their descent has been so complete as to be objectively impressive, I’ll admit, but it’s always easier to destroy than create. You do not, in fact, have to hand it to them, even if they start telling the truth. But they won’t.