MLB must pull the plug to end its sign-stealing nightmareNovember 13, 2019
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Pull the plug.
Major League Baseball — once the game begins — must return to a purer battle of players versus each other. Not a contest influenced by who has the best IT department.
Let this latest controversy involving the Astros — yes, them again — resonate as the moment when the leadership of the game (that includes you, players) did something proactive to avoid the next Black Sox scandal by inducing a blackout.
Because understand that everything the Astros have done in this the greatest era in franchise history, including winning the 2017 championship, is now smudged with doubt. And even if you loathe the Astros — and, boy, do other clubs in the sport abhor this franchise — this is terrible for the game to cast the credibility of results into doubt.
The Athletic on Tuesday published a report in which Mike Fiers, a member of the 2017 Astros, went on the record to detail a cheating system Houston used that year with cameras and signals to alert hitters to types of pitches being thrown. Danny Farquhar, then of the White Sox, was also on record explaining how the Astros were signaling to hitters by striking a garbage can in real time when his changeup was coming during a game that season. The Twitter user Jomboy, who excels at using video to detail often missed elements during games, found the Farquhar game and visually and audibly made a compelling case that the illegal signalling was indeed taking place.
The Astros put out a statement in which they did the boilerplate of saying they had “begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball” into the allegations, though they have been aware of allegations against them for years and if they really cared they would have been investigating this for a long time. The two-sentence statement concluded, “It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time.”
But, of course, it would be appropriate, notably having someone in an official Astros capacity saying they did not do this. That did not happen.
Here’s hoping MLB is really investigating this and not just delaying until everyone forgets, and if malfeasance is uncovered, will severely punish the Astros.
Just as vital, can MLB use this incident to further address this issue?
My solution — Amish Baseball. Turn off the electricity. Do whatever you want to prepare before the game using whatever equipment is available. But once the game begins, all of it must be shut off. Players who retain the information gain an edge; those who can decipher tips with their eyes, great.
MLB has come a long way in the last two years — since the Astros allegations, in particular, first surfaced. All cameras in a stadium now must be catalogued to MLB. All team replay officials are now monitored by MLB operatives to make sure they are relaying nothing but information about whether to challenge a play or not. MLB does unannounced in-game inspections to check out stadiums. All of that is good. Yet, not enough because the paranoia still thrives and the paranoia is further slowing down a game that already has become too slow.
Teams are constantly changing signs, even without runners on base, and operating in a deliberate style to evade the decoding of the opponent.
As more gains are made in artificial intelligence, the paranoia about how information is being relayed will only worsen.
So shut down the instant-replay mechanism. A manager can still challenge, but must do it by deciding without the help of someone in the clubhouse watching multiple monitors. Quick, do you want to challenge or not? It will give pause to disputing a bang-bang play in the first inning and return to what was hoped for — reversing obvious blunders and game-changing mistakes. Also, no more looking at video between each at-bat.
And the clubhouse becomes off-limits during the game with major league officials in each clubhouse monitoring to make sure no one is there.
This is going to annoy players who like wandering in to check out how their fantasy team is doing or grab a bite. Too bad. Players do not go to the clubhouse in the NBA and NFL until halftime. You want to make a halftime to allow it in MLB, fine. Three minutes in the fifth inning. Go.
There are bathrooms near dugouts, you don’t need the clubhouse. The training room is fine for use during games, but electronics only for medical reasons.
It will be difficult to monitor, which is why the penalties must be stiff. Any team caught using electronics during games will be docked five first-round draft picks and the head of baseball operations will be suspended for a year without pay, forcing each team’s GM to make sure nothing nefarious is ongoing. Because as we saw with Fiers, now with Oakland, when a player leaves a team he can expose what was happening in his old locale.
Again, use whatever equipment you want to improve and ready yourself before and after the game. But during the game, we must return to the essence of sport — you versus him.
Pull the plug.
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