Our opinion: Grand Old Game takes hit to the heart

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The Houston Astros players have announced that they will begin spring training next month by apologizing for participating in the sign-stealing gambit that tarnished the 2017 World Series and move on. They surely will, although the sport itself will not recover so quickly.

And for the Boston Red Sox and their fans, who have already lost a popular manager to the scandal and are awaiting with dread the conclusions of a Major League Baseball investigation into the Sox' behavior during their 2018 World Series championship season, moving on is a long way off.

A former pitcher on the Astros 2017 title winning team exposed the plot, which involved the Astros using a TV camera in the outfield to steal a catcher's signs, relay that information to the clubhouse and from there to batters through a banging of trash cans in the dugout. The strategy could only be used at home games, where the Astros were all but unbeatable, especially in the post-season. The report from Major League Baseball following a comprehensive investigation determined that bench coach Alex Cora was at the center of the scheme. Mr. Cora, who was hired to manage the Red Sox based in large part on his role in the Astros' success, led the Red Sox to the World Series and was acclaimed a genius. He was fired shortly after the report on the Astros came out.

Variations of the cynical saying "If you're not cheating, you're not trying" have been heard in the world of sports for decades and apply today to political campaigns. Sign-stealing by crafty dugout veterans has been part of the game since its earliest days. There is even a category for "steals" for base runners who successfully race to the next base on their journey. None of this, of course, constitutes cheating. If a player or coach is crafty enough to steal a sign he has earned an advantage for his team.

Electronic chicanery is forbidden by baseball's rules. The Astros knew this and did it anyway — including the soon to be formally apologetic players who surely escaped punishment because Commissioner Rob Manfred didn't want a fight with the powerful Major League Baseball Players Association. The Astros ploy required no skill or effort and was nothing more than cheating. In doing so, the Astros wounded the grand old game to its core.

But the Astros went further in damaging an analogue era sport that is as comforting to the nation as the sight of a rotary phone in the iPhone era. Baseball's roots go back to a time when the Civil War was a recent memory — and so do its statistics. That long line of World Series champions will have a permanent asterisk next to the year 2017. The Astros did as much harm to baseball's cherished statistics as the sluggers bloated by performance enhancing drugs did to hallowed home run records. May none of them darken the door of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

Yu Darvish, a star pitcher on the Los Angeles Dodgers team that lost the seven-game World Series to the Astros is 2017, asked "Where's our trophy?" after the scandal broke out. Well, the Dodgers won't be getting the World Series trophy by default because there is no way of knowing to a certainty that the Astros would not have won had they not broken the rules. Sadly, the Astros were a good enough team that they quite possibly would have won the World Series without resorting to electronic gamesmanship.

But Mr. Darvish has every right to be aggrieved. He was hit hard twice by the Astros and pilloried in the press as an overpaid choke artist who can't pitch under pressure. It was speculated that he was tipping his pitches. It turns out that they were being stolen. A free agent, his performance may have cost him money on his next contract with the Chicago Cubs. No, Mr. Darvish won't starve, but did a lesser pitcher hammered by Astros batters who knew what he was going to throw them suffer financially as a result?

For the Astros, who decided that winning was everything and they would break the rules to achieve it, none of the ramifications of their actions mattered. It is unlikely they were even considered. Astros players can now reflect at leisure at the permanent tainting of their World Series victory and endure the taunting and heckling they will receive from fans in unfriendly ballparks this coming season and perhaps for seasons to come. This is a just fate, and the Red Sox organization and players can only wait and hope that it is not a fate that they will share.

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