Trying to get a handle on cheating via technology in MLB

The hammer may be about to drop on the Houston Astros for their real-time sign stealing and cheating in baseball. But even before that hammer falls comes news that the Boston Red Sox are involved. Again.

Wasn’t the Apple Watch episode enough? And it can’t be a good look for the sport when the World Series champs of 2017 (Houston) and 2018 (Boston) are tainted.

You can say I’m exaggerating here, but a “Landis moment” may be coming soon for Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred. He needs to get a handle on the cheating and put a stop to it. The technology is moving fast and MLB is trying to keep up. Strong penalties against Houston - including at least the loss of draft picks - might serve as a future deterrent. Discipline could be coming for general manager Jeff Luhnow and skipper AJ Hinch. Alex Cora is linked to both teams as Houston’s bench coach and Boston’s manager.

Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis was baseball’s first commissioner. He banned from the game for life eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. The “Black Sox” had thrown the World Series and taken bribes from gamblers.

Landis is credited with restoring some confidence in the game after the Black Sox scandal and Manfred might have to do that now. It’s a very different time and in this 24-hour news cycle and Twitter age, something that seems a crisis today can be forgotten tomorrow.

toronto-baseballs.jpgBut this won’t likely be the case for a cheating scandal in the majors. No doubt Houston and Boston did a lot right and worked very hard to win a lot of games and a World Series. But now we are left to wonder how much of it was because they produced great teams and how much was because they were good at cheating with the use of technology.

How does Manfred make the punishment fit the crime but also make an example of these teams to get a handle on cheating?

No easy line to walk here.

Former big leaguer Will Middlebrooks tweeted this yesterday: “You can dig into every organization and find this....with the technology available in this era, you can’t expect teams not to use every bit of it to gain an edge. No one is looking into the teams that lose 95 games a year, but I promise they do it too.”

Former O’s minor leaguer Zach Davies, now with the Padres, didn’t seem to agree in this tweet: “Unless I was living under a rock during my time with the brewers, we didn’t have an extra camera, an algorithm, or buzzers. 90% of the guys didn’t want the signs if they were picked up at 2nd. Using video work to pick up tendencies.”

So is everybody doing it or not? My guess is not. The so-called Steroids Era was bad for baseball. It produced inflated stats and it was hard to know for sure which players cheated and which did not. But this feels worse.

On those Houston and Boston teams, there may be players who used illegal means to gain an edge. But there may be plenty of players that never did. But they all get painted with a broad brush at this point. Cheating is a terrible word in sports and it sticks.

It’s not good for the sport when the first thought yesterday for some of us was raise your hand if you didn’t cheat to win a baseball game.

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