MLB’s Punishment of the Boston Red Sox is Absurd
Finally, the other shoe has dropped, and the world learned the outcome of Major League Baseball’s investigation into cheating allegations levied against the Boston Red Sox. Although a punishment was given to the team, the findings don’t support that decision and make the sport and the Commissioner, Rob Manfred, look silly.
Boiling down the results of the investigation, it was determined that video replay operator J.T Watkins intermittently deciphered signs in game during the World Series-winning 2018 season and relayed them to a small number of players (He has apparently strenuously denied this).
It was also stressed that the number of players who utilized the ill-gotten signs was small and the number of incidents was limited — only when the team had a runner on second base and not in every game. It was further determined that most players were not aware of this activity, nor was any member of the coaching squad or front office. MLB banned Watkins without pay through the 2021 season; suspended former manager Alex Cora through the 2020 season (for his involvement with the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scandal only); and stripped the Red Sox of their second-round draft choice this year. No players were punished in any way because of immunity they were given for their testimony.
To be clear, the behavior that was alleged was completely wrong and should be dealt with strongly. Anyone proven to be involved should be spared no mercy, given how baseball has made clear that such behavior is prohibited. The problem is, that’s not what happened.
If the evidence supported the findings, then the punishment of Watkins was just. As was Cora’s, who may not have done anything underhanded in Boston, but was apparently a key figure in the Houston scandal. Where MLB’s decision goes off the rails is the confiscation of the team’s second-round pick. Not only was the Boston front office and coaching staff found to have no involvement in this mess, the Commissioner in his report even went out of his way to mention that the Red Sox were consistently communicating sign stealing rules and “made commendable efforts towards instilling a culture of compliance in their organization.”
Manfred made the decision to absolve players of wrongdoing in exchange for their honest testimony. It’s unethical to make others, including the organization, culpable so that there is some form of punishment in place to appease the masses. If nobody outside of the banished video room operator and exempt players had any knowledge or involvement, how is the brunt of the consequences on the team? In the real world, if somebody was discovered producing counterfeit money in the building where they worked, unbeknownst to their employer, would the employer be charged with counterfeiting? That the Red Sox were found to have done everything within their power to do the right thing and yet still bear the brunt of the punishment defies logic.
The loss of the draft pick is particularly stinging for Boston. Already with a depleted farm system, the 2020 draft may be reduced to as few as five rounds this year due to COVID-19. Possibly losing 20% of their draft yield is unreasonably steep. While no selection is a slam dunk, the second round has yielded some of the most valuable Red Sox players in recent memory, including Fred Lynn, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester.
For anyone who might say that regardless of what was and wasn’t known or condoned and the team ultimately is responsible for their players and employees, I offer this. When players test positive for PEDs, bump umpires or commit other transgressions, they are held individually responsible. The team is not punished. The only reason this is happening now is because baseball had to get in front of the cheating allegations across the sport and appear to have a strong response to appease fans. They couldn’t do this without the cooperation of the players and decided to punt on holding them accountable because instead they had the ability to do just about anything they wanted with the individual organizations and coaching staffs.
It’s disappointing that the Red Sox were determined to have members of their organization involved with inappropriately stealing signs during the 2018 season, which was one of the most memorable and enjoyable in team history. However, what’s even more devastating is that the actual guilty parties are not all bearing responsibility and instead are leaving the team to assume the burden imposed on them by a Commissioner, whose decision appears to be based more on creating a public perception than fairness.