Little Discussion of Ethics in Baseball Cheating Scandal

January 17, 2020 Ben DiPietro

It’s mostly been sad watching this latest cheating scandal in baseball unfold, and not because it's another example of cheating in the game. 

Fact is, there’s always been cheating in baseball--what differentiates this scandal is that it involves technology. Stealing signs is as old as the game itself; apparently, using technology to do so is a line that can’t yet be crossed. That's a different story for a different day.

Mostly it’s been sad to hear how so few of the people involved--and those writing and commenting about this--are missing the main point that needs to be highlighted.

So few of the participants are talking about personal ethics and responsibility, and this is a story that doesn’t need to go beyond that. It’s very simple: when someone in your organization is found to be cheating, they must be held accountable, usually by letting them go.

I just watched as the New York Mets, the team I root for, announced the departure of their new manager, Carlos Beltran, who was a player on the 2017 Houston Astros team at the heart of this sign-stealing scandal. Beltran was the only player named in the commissioner’s report. He, along with now-fired Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora--bench coach for the 2017 Astros--were believed to be the masterminds of the cheating scheme.

I’ve seen commentary the Mets didn’t have to let Beltran go--he never managed a game with the team--because Beltran didn’t lie to them. That could be, in part, because the Mets said at the press conference announcing his departure that they didn’t ask him about the incident after the initial November report came out. Why? They said they didn’t want to interfere with the commissioner’s investigation. But how do you not ask him? He’s your employee, the manager of your team. What were they afraid to find out?

Even those questions miss the point. Beltran cheated, and admitted as much in his statement. It doesn’t matter if he didn’t cheat while with the Mets. The man who is the public face of the franchise can’t be a cheater--unless you want to be an organization that associates itself with cheaters.

Beltran may be one of the few to grasp the magnitude of his ethical lapse, judging by his statement. "I've always taken pride in being a leader and doing things the right way, and in this situation, I failed," Beltran said. "As a veteran player on the team, I should've recognized the severity of the issue and truly regret the actions that were taken. I am a man of faith and integrity and what took place did not demonstrate those characteristics that are so very important to me and my family. I'm very sorry.”

Contrast that to the statement from Mets chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, the son of the team’s owner, and its general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen. "This was not an easy decision,” they said. “Considering the circumstances, it became clear to all parties that it was not in anyone's best interest for Carlos to move forward as manager of the New York Mets.”

No mention of ethics. No mention of high standards not being upheld. Just lamenting of “circumstances” and "interests." Almost seems like they really didn’t want to let him go, but felt they had to because of all the negative publicity and scrutiny that would follow if they kept him.

Houston fired its manager, AJ Hinch, and its general manager, Jeff Luhnow, for failing to put a stop to the cheating; Hinch admitted he knew but didn’t stop it, Luhnow professed not to know. Boston--under investigation for stealing signs in its 2018 championship season--fired Cora before the results of that investigation have been announced. The Mets waited to dismiss Beltran until after they were called to a meeting with the commissioner.

There is no organizational justice when only some people involved in the cheating are punished, and others are not. Major League Baseball was wrong to not want to have a confrontation with the player’s union, and to use that as a reason not to punish any of the players. 

Two of the last three World Series champions now are under the cloud of cheating. Stars on both of those teams will make millions of dollars, while pitchers on other teams who were victimized by Astros and Red Sox hitters may be out of the league because of their poor performances against those teams. There is no justice in any of that. And very little in the way of discussion of ethics, personal responsibility, transparency, and accountability.

To make it worse, today should be a day we are celebrating baseball, as the first woman was named to be a full-time, on-field coach for a team, the San Francisco Giants. Instead, Alyssa Nakken's historic hiring gets a brief mention in the news, while the focus remains on the scandal.

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