The ALCS has been marred by controversy through three games, with both the Red Sox and Astros being accused of cheating, albeit very different types of cheating. The Red Sox got caught doing something that, in all reality, all teams do. Most teams just don’t get caught.

The Astros, however, should be facing a massive punishment for repeated offenses. They key word there is ‘should’; the Astros, nor the Red Sox, are going to be heavily punished for their transgressions. One should, but neither will.

Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes was caught by Twitter user Cody Daeschner having Pine Tar on his arm, and using it to get a better grip on the baseball earlier in the series. AJ Hinch and the Astros dugout either didn’t see this or just didn’t bother bringing it up, because Barnes was not ejected from the game.

We’ve seen countless examples of pitchers being ejected for doctoring the baseball. Just a few years ago, Marlins pitcher Brian Matusz and Brewers pitcher Will Smith were ejected within a week of each other for doing just that. Then-Red Sox manager John Farrell got Yankees starter Michael Pineda ejected for having pine tar on his neck a few years ago.

There really isn’t a happy medium to change this rule, but something needs to be done. Al Leiter spoke wonderfully on this specific topic after that Pineda ejection, explaining just how dumb the rule is. Every MLB mound has a rosin bag, which a pitcher uses to get a better grip on the baseball. That is supported, and provided, by Major League Baseball.

However, Matt Barnes, Michael Pineda, or any other pitcher can’t use pine tar to get a better grip. The only reason the rule is in place is that reversing it opens a whole can of worms. By simply making doctoring the ball legal, it opens up the ability for players to use nail files ala Joe Niekro, or even a spitball.

The basic fact that pine tar does affect the integrity of a pitch is why it’s not so simple as to say “change the rule.” There really isn’t a fix for this besides enforcing the current rule and promoting the use of MLB-sanctioned rosin.

However, even if the Red Sox were penalized for this, it would be a short suspension for Barnes, probably to start the 2019 season, and that’s it. This situation isn’t really a big deal. The Astros, however, committed a lot larger of a transgression. And, unfortunately, due to precedents the MLB has already set, they are going to more-or-less be let off the hook for it.

Multiple media reports during game three claimed security at Fenway Park ejected an Astros team employee, who was equipped with a cell phone, from the credentialled media section of the park, right next to the Red Sox dugout, during game one. He was reportedly repeatedly texting, and later claimed he was “monitoring the Red Sox dugout to see if Boston was improperly using a video monitor.”

Danny Picard of metro.us was the first to break the story, claiming that major league security was suspicious of this man, later identified by Jeff Passan as Kyle McLaughlin, because of incidents at Progressive Field during the ALDS. Mark Schwab, a reporter for WOIO in Cleveland, reported that multiple Astros officials were ejected from a similar spot in game three of the ALDS.

This story is a massive deal. While there have been similar incidents, including one involving (who else?) the Red Sox and Yankees a few years back, I cannot find one instance in which a team official, nonetheless multiple, were ejected from a credentialed media section, presumably trying to steal signs.

The MLB has said they are aware of the incident and are investigating, but it’s impossible to envision a scenario in which the Astros are heavily punished for this. The MLB has given themselves the reputation of coming off weak in punishments for cheating. Just ask Chris Correa, who was imprisoned for corporate espionage when with the Cardinals, though the organization was only fined $2 million and docked two draft picks.

Correa worked under current Astros GM Jeff Luhnow with the Cardinals, so when Luhnow left to go to Houston, Correa used his account and accounts of former coworkers to access information on the Astros beliefs of draft prospects and Cardinals prospects.

There’s actually another massive similarity between what Correa did and what McLaughlin did. McLaughlin isn’t going to be imprisoned for corporate espionage, so the punishment shouldn’t be as large as even what the Cardinals got, but McLaughlin’s excuse was straight out of Correa’s book.

In court, Correa was asked whether he “broke into their house to find if they were stealing your stuff” after Correa claimed the hacking was to make sure the Astros weren’t hacking the Cardinals. Correa responded in the affirmative.

McLaughlin used this same exact excuse, claiming he was checking whether or not Boston was using a monitor improperly. The Astros must be extremely paranoid of sign stealing that they suspect the Red Sox, Indians, and even the A’s of using video monitors incorrectly, am I right?

Correa, who worked with a large majority of the current Astros front office, wasn’t surprised by the news, tweeting as such after the story broke last night.

All of this being said, and the major transgression sign stealing is, especially when going this far to do it, nothing is going to happen to the Astros. The Cardinals didn’t get a massive punishment. The Red Sox only got a fine for using an Apple Watch to steal signs.

The MLB put out a press release that they consider this manner closed, and won’t be punishing Houston, or any other team.

However, this shouldn’t be the case. The MLB needs to come down harder on people trying to undermine the integrity of the sport. Kyle McLaughlin was exonerated for the same excuse Chris Correa went to federal prison for. “I was checking to make sure they weren’t cheating” is not a viable excuse.

At what point does Rob Manfred take a step back, look at what he’s allowed baseball to devolve into, and realize that change is needed? At what point does Major League Baseball finally have to face the reality that the integrity of the game is getting closer and closer to a myth by the day?

Major League Baseball did a horrible job not punishing John Mozeliak for what Chris Correa did under his watch. And, once again, they are doing a horrible job not punishing Jeff Luhnow for what Kyle McLaughlin did under his.

Stealing from Ted Wells, just based on what the public knows, it is more probable than not that Jeff Luhnow knew about this. If Luhnow did not know his employees were sneaking around three different major league ballparks to “check if other teams were cheating,” despite the fact there is an MLB contact for that very thing, it’s a malpractice upon his position as president of baseball operations. And if we have seen anything about Jeff Luhnow since he took over in Houston, it’s absolutely not that he is bad at his job.

The fact the MLB let Houston off the hook for this only furthers the belief that they don’t have the best interest of the sport at mind. There is no possible circumstance in which a lack of integrity for the game is not a detriment to the sport. All cases of cheating should be handled harsher, in order to prevent future transgressions.

Jeff Luhnow needs to be better. But, even more so, the MLB has to prove to its fans they care enough about baseball not be actively destroying it.

 

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