Baseball scandal shows how low we go

Tom Witosky was an investigative reporter for the Des Moines Register in politics, sports, and business for 33 years prior to his early retirement in 2012. He is also the co-author of Equal Before the Law: How Iowa led Americans to Marriage Equality. -promoted by Laura Belin

It’s time we all acknowledge one single truth about what we have done to our country: We’ve lost our moral authority.

And we are all to blame for it no matter which side of the political spectrum you sit.

How do I know that?

It’s simple really. It’s about baseball.

Pitchers and catchers reported last week for spring training, and everyone else arrived soon after. The sounds of snapping gloves catching baseballs and the cracks of bats filled the air in Florida and Arizona as the country awakens from winter.

But what is the story of baseball this spring? Cheating. Cheating to win.

Ponder that for a moment. Not since the Black Sox scandal 101 years ago–when gambler Arnold Rothstein’s fixed the 1919 Chicago White Sox-Cincinnati Reds World Series–has baseball presented the country with a cheating scandal so clearly planned and executed.

The Houston Astros is the first team to have been convicted of the crime using the new technology age to steal an opposing catcher’s signs to his pitcher and then communicating it to the Astros batters in an old-fashioned way – hitting a trash can with a bat.

The Boston Red Sox likely will be next, and before it’s over, probably a whole bunch of other teams will be found to have done the same thing. After all, there are no secrets in baseball.

Men have lost their jobs and now rumblings are surfacing about whether the players who participated in the scheme should be suspended from baseball or banned like Pete Rose and the players in the Black Sox scandal like Joe Jackson.

And, of course, the voices of individuals angered by the scandal have surfaced to excoriate and threaten the whistleblowers for “ratting out” the cheaters.

Sound familiar?

To draw the similarities between the corruption of this country’s moral authority in its government institutions is almost too easy. Cheating through lies, obstruction, and the rebirth of efforts to allow and encourage the return of Jim Crow-like discrimination against racial, religious, and gender minorities is what this country has come to accept blithely if not willingly.

Now President Donald Trump is advocating for the reinstatement of Pete Rose to allow his entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame, though he broke the one cardinal rule that baseball has had since 1919 – no gambling allowed.

Baseball dealt with gambling in 1921 when Commissioner Kenesaw Landis ordered the eight White Sox players who participated in the scheme banned from baseball for life. It dealt with racism in 1948 and it won. When Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier, the country changed. It still took another six years for the country to end the pernicious racial theory of the time “separate but equal” but it did end.

The late Bart Giamatti dealt with Rose when Rose accepted a lifetime ban in 1989. Giamatti died soon thereafter, ending any chance Rose would have to get the baseball commissioner to reverse his decision.

Now baseball is confronted by another challenge – how to change what clearly has become the same ends justifies the means justification that now permeates this country’s political psyche.

James Earl Jones said it best in his monologue at the end of Field of Dreams, during which he urged Ray Kinsella to keep his baseball field in the cornfield because “people will come.”

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

Let’s hope baseball can show us the way back to a time when integrity matters, before it’s too late.

Top image: Houston Astros coach AJ Hinch at spring training, March 2015. Photo by Eric Enfermero, available via Wikimedia Commons. In January 2020, Hinch was suspended for a year and subsequently fired for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal.

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