Gene Lyons

I've always been sentimental about baseball, the one youthful passion that's lasted all my life. At this time of year, I'm normally counting the days until pitchers and catchers report.

During the season, I normally watch an MLB game — or large parts of one, anyway — almost every day. For me, satellite TV coverage has been a technological miracle as life-altering as the internet.

So has the quality of the broadcasts, so different from the murky black-and-white images on the small screen over the Elizabethport, New Jersey, bar where my uncle Tommy Connors sat me while he played shuffleboard with his pals: babysitting Irish-American style. This was before our family owned a TV. I was enchanted with the game then, and played it as long as anybody would give me a uniform.

I sometimes say that marrying a baseball coach's daughter was one of the best decisions of my life. I still remember her endearing hesitance on the phone: Her childhood friend Brooks Robinson had offered her two tickets to the 1966 World Series. Would I have any interest in driving us from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Baltimore for the game?

OMG, would I!

Also, will you marry me?

She still thinks it's normal for a man to watch baseball every day, and sometimes watches with me, although I'm forbidden to talk about it anywhere near as much as I'd like. Stories about personality and character interest her; tactical analysis, not so much.

(Meanwhile, how old am I? So old that I recently met a young woman whose fiance is a pitcher in the Kansas City Royals system, and she'd never heard of Brooks Robinson — God's own third baseman and arguably the best player Arkansas has ever produced.)

Anyway, and here comes the bad news, I am also a Boston Red Sox fan — the un-Yankees of my youth. Back in 2018 when they won the World Series, I wrote a column touting the team's remarkable spirit, "an athletic brotherhood transcending race, nationality, language and religion."

"Under the leadership of rookie manager Alex Cora," I wrote, "the Red Sox came to embody much of what's best about America: a passion for excellence, a personal and communal determination to succeed, and an unwillingness to be divided."

Yeah, that Alex Cora, the one who has had to step down as Red Sox manager for his role as ringleader in the Houston Astros' disgraceful sign-stealing scandal.

Alex Cora, the cheat.

Nobody in Boston wanted to see him go, but everybody in the Red Sox organization — including Cora himself — agreed that he was done there. Stealing signs is as old as baseball, a part of the game. A pitcher or catcher who inadvertently "tips" pitches — fastball, curve, slider, changeup, etc. — through body language or careless signaling has merely made a mistake.

But systematically using electronic spying to give hitters an illicit advantage — as the 2017 Astros undeniably did, according to a scathing MLB investigative report — is altogether different. It's a violation of the game's essence; as cynical as dealing off the bottom of a deck of cards or kicking an opponent's golf ball into the rough, like Donald Trump.

You don't want to play with that guy anymore.

MLB has suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a full season. Both were subsequently fired. Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for Houston in 2017, had to quit.

But notice who's not there? Astros owner Jim Crane, for one. Baseball columnist Will Leitch also noticed that "something was noticeably missing from [baseball commissioner Rob Manfred's] statement: players. Currently active, showing-up-at-spring-training-in-a-month baseball players. You know, the people who actually did the cheating."

Nobody who watched that 2017 Astros team can forget the remarkable clutch hitting of two in particular: Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Both are extraordinary athletes who shouldn't need to cheat to win. Also decent fellows to the long-distance fan watching on TV.

Nevertheless, they cheated. Nothing in their public statements indicates contrition.

How much do stolen signs help? Opinions vary, but evidently quite a lot. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood, the team Houston beat in 2017, referenced baseball's previous big scandal: "I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming."

Which brings us back to Cora and the Red Sox. Did the manager bring his lowdown ways to the 2018 winners? Slugger J.D. Martinez says an ongoing investigation will vindicate his teammates.

Indeed, Boston sign-stealing efforts described by Ken Rosenthal in The Athletic fall far short of the Astros scheme. Not to get too technical, but a big-league team that doesn't adjust its sign sequences with runners on second base deserves no sympathy.

Anyway, I hope Martinez is right, because I'm too old to find a new team. If I lived in Boston, it'd be an existential crisis.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000). Email Lyons at eugenelyons2@yahoo.com.

React to this story:

0
0
0
0
0

Recommended for you