MLB scandal: That hundred-twenty-year ethical problem

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 23: Carlos Beltran
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 23: Carlos Beltran /
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(Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB via Getty Images)
(Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB via Getty Images) /

All baseball fans are shocked — shocked — to learn about the MLB scandal involving the Houston Astros, but what will really happen about it?

For those who haven’t yet seen Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell’s extremely articulate comment Feb. 12 on the Houston Astros’ MLB scandal, it is well worth the several minutes needed to take it in.

Boswell takes a very long view of the continuing ethical problem in baseball, touching briefly on the steroid era, decades of MLB owners’ bad faith negotiations that cost them $280 million dollars (“probably connected to” those PEDS), and Pete Rose’s tone-deaf recent plea for reinstatement. He eventually works his way around to some common sense suggestions about the most recent MLB scandal, and a warning that a sport losing the public’s faith in its integrity could well go into the sort of decline experienced by boxing and horse-racing.

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Of course, Boswell might have included a lot more examples, from the game-throwing scandals of the early 20th century to the use of amphetamines  that probably peaked in the 1970s for MLB, but which actually started much earlier.

He might have included time-honored “unwritten rules” in MLB like pitchers protecting teammates who have been hit with pitches by throwing at opposing players. You can argue this is something that “evens out” over the long run, but as an ethical matter – or a moral matter – is it right for an individual to ever throw a baseball 90-to-95 mph at another human? At his hands? Near or at his head?

Boswell might have included the eternal pitchers search for ways to make a thrown baseball move oddly by a cheater’s means.

But can outright cheating and other ethically questionable actions ever be stopped? Will MLB’s ruling councils start mandating year-long suspensions, or lifetime bans for certain infractions, even in the first instance?

Let’s think a bit smaller: Will MLB ever decide, for example, to throw a pitcher out of a game if a pitch is near a batter’s head and three of the four umpires “find” that it was intentional without first warning both teams.

If a team is found to be cheating on a wholesale level, as the Astros seem to have been, will the players involved (not just team management) be targeted by MLB as Boswell suggests?

The answer seems to be a firm not yet. If ever. And there are two reasons for that.