HOUSTON — Rob Manfred needs to come up with transparency for the public, and fast. Major League Baseball has a sticky situation to sort out after an Astros employee was engaging in some shady behavior both in Cleveland and Boston during the playoffs this year.
A person working for the Astros — first identified by Yahoo Sports and confirmed by NBC Sports Boston to be Kyle McLaughlin — impermissibly attempted to tape the Sox dugout in Boston during Game 1 of the ALCS, sources said. The Sox were tipped off to McLaughlin by the Indians, who encountered him engaging in similar activity in the ALDS this year.
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski confirmed the occurrence at Fenway Park to the media Tuesday night after the Red Sox won Game 3. Major League Baseball confirmed it was looking into the matter.
“It did not affect our first game, what took place,” Dombrowski said. “The person was removed much earlier in the game.”
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Whether it’s professional jealousy playing out in the form of a complaint or a larger, legitimate problem specific the Astros; whether this was something everyone on the Astros knew about, or was an endeavor known to just a few taskmasters — these are questions for MLB to sort now. And it needs to do so in a way that instills confidence that it, one, has a grasp on how to consistently enforce its own rules, and two, that its rules actually make sense in modern times.
The league’s approach thus far in these matters has been to stay quiet unless someone tattles. Hush-hush, unless reporters or the public catch wind — then deal with it begrudgingly.
“We are aware of the matter and it will be handled internally,” Major League Baseball said Tuesday night, reiterating the statement it gave to Metro, which first broke the story.
Recall that when the commissioner spoke at Fenway Park about the Apple Watch saga last year, he seemed tickled that the matter became public at all.
Integrity of the game has always been paramount, or at least projected to be. But the league is incentivizing people in the industry to both cheat — punishments are rare — and to throw accusations around, because that’s the only way matters become investigated.
The league has taken some proactive steps. This year, dugout phone calls became something the league can listen back to. MLB this postseason has more consistently monitored video replay rooms, as well, sources said.
But why hasn't the latter move been publicly advertised? The cat's out of the bag.
“It’s intense, to say the least,” one source with a playoff team said Tuesday night. “There were people coming in and out [of the video room]. There were always people around. But I think this year it’s more . . . It’s like paranoia.”
Attempts to gain advantages are rampant throughout baseball, and most clubs engage in some form of rule-rule-breaking when it comes to the letter of the law. Some rival executives believe the Astros to be at the forefront of what amounts to cheating, even if the gains may be small, or as reports pegged it Tuesday night, for some sort of defensive purpose.
“The Astros are the Patriots of baseball,” one American League executive said on Tuesday night.
Those feelings could be rooted in reality. They could be rooted in a snowballed perception problem. The Astros are certainly known to push the envelope generally. Jeff Luhnow’s made a career on seeing how far he can push boundaries, and largely, he’s succeeded.
Cameras are everywhere at stadiums. Visiting teams notice them. They get paranoid, and maybe rightfully so. Even announcers can be involved in sign stealing, hurt Sox pitcher Carson Smith said the other day.
It’s not a cross up just because they have a mound visit. If people only knew the extent teams go to steal signs. Announcers included.— Carson Smith (@Carson_Smith39) October 14, 2018
Maybe it should be the case that taping anything visible to a fan on the field of play should just be fair game, to limit what actually stands out as a violation. It’s kind of silly that a fan could sit in the stands and tape something but a team employee could not.
Maybe the league should encourage teams to move to some sort of audio play-calling system.
Either way, brushing aside these situations as a matter to be handled internally is an insult to the viewing public. The rules should reflect that it is inane to try outlaw all electronic means of surveillance in today’s world. And most importantly, the means of enforcement should not be a product of a whisper campaign that pits teams against each other in a constant petty fight that makes it hard to discern reality from gossip.
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