The Astros Cheating Scandal and Compliance – Part 4: Ethics and The Truth of the Game

Thomas Fox
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Compliance Evangelist

I am in the midst of a multi-part exploration of the Major League Baseball (MLB) investigation into allegations that the Houston Astros engaged in a multi-year scheme to steal signs and signals from opposing teams. MLB issued a Statement of the Commissioner (MLB Report) detailing the investigation protocol, findings, disciplinary actions taken and conclusions. The entire sordid affair provides every compliance practitioner with multiple lessons to be learned that they can use in every corporate compliance program. In Part 3, I focused on lessons learned from the compliance perspective. Today, I want to take a look at some of the ethical issues raised.

I have focused more on the compliance issues of the Astros sign stealing scandal. As the scandal unfolded over the past week, most people focused on the MLB Report, the firings of General Manager (GM) Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch. Then came the subsequent firings of the two Astros identified as the Masterminds behind the scheme; then Bench Coach Alex Cora and the only Astros player named, Carlos Beltrán. (Cora was fired by the Boston Red Sox, Beltrán was fired by the NY Mets.) The twitter universe then went into overdrive with speculation that the Astros subsequently used wires connected to their bodies to communicate signs through electric shocks. Indeed, the primary claim is that Jose Altuve did not want his teammates to tear of his shirt after he hit the ALCS Championship series winning home run off New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman because it would show the wire he was allegedly wearing.

Today, I wanted to consider some of the ethical issues involved, why do we have ethics, more specifically, why do we have ethics in sports. At its most basic, ethics is knowing right from wrong. There is no question the Astros as a team knew the sign stealing scheme was wrong; undeniably, on the far side of wrong. Everyone knew it. As noted in the MLB Report, the players knew it,  “Many of the players who were interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line from what the player believed was fair competition and/or violated MLB rules.”; Hinch knew it, “he believed that the conduct was wrong”; finally, and most unrepentantly, Luhnow claimed he knew nothing about it.

Jose Mourinho, the self-proclaimed Special One, is about as far from baseball as you can get. Yet he is one the most (self) respected Managers in the world of Football (soccer to us Americans).  Mourinho  has won titles almost everywhere he has coached, from Spain to England. Once, when responding to the never-ending charges of corruption by the world’s governing body for football, the FIFA Executive Committee, he said “This one, for me, is the end of the world. You change the truth of the game”.

This is the most basic issue in the Astros sign stealing scandal; they changed the truth of the game. Andy Loughmiller certainly thinks so. In a 12Up piece, entitled Astros’ Home and Road Splits From 2017 Postseason Clearly Indicate Something Fishy Was Going on, he found clear evidence that something (very) fishy was going on, his article references twitter feeds analyzing the home/away batting stats of the top Astros in the 2017 playoffs and World Series:

  • Jose Altuve:
    Home: .472 BA/.513 OBP/1.028 SLG/1.541 OPS, 17 H, 6 HR & 12 RBI
    Away: .143 BA, .268 OBP, .229 SLG, .497 OPS, 5 H, 1 HR & 2 RBI
  • Carlos Correa:
    Home: .371 BA/.421 OBP/.743 SLG/1.164 OPS, 13 H, 3 HR & 10 RBI
    Away: .211 BA/.231 OBP/.395 SLG/.626 OPS, 8 H, 2 HR & 4 RBI
  • Alex Bregman:
    Home: .273 BA/.342 OBP/.515 SLG/.857 OPS, 9 H, 2 HR & 6 RBI
    Away: .154 BA/.175 OBP/.333 SLG/.508 OPS, 6 H, 2 HR & 4 RBI
  • Brian McCann:
    Home: .300 BA/.382 OBP/.467 SLG/.849 OPS, 9 H, 1 HR & 7 RBI
    Away: .037 BA/.161 OBP/.037 SLG/.198 OPS, 1 H, 0 HR & 0 RBI
  • Evan Gattis: 

Home: .300 BA/.464 OBP/.550 SLG/1.014 OPS, 6 H, 1 HR & 3 RBI

Away: .200 BA/.333 OBP/.200 SLG/.533 OPS, 2 H, 0 HR & 0 RBI

Seems suspicious enough or perhaps not as 13ABC.com called the 2017 Astros “Road Warriors” based on the following seemingly unbelievable facts, “The 2017 Astros boasted a 53-28 record in road games, which tied for first in the Majors. In fact, their road winning percentage of .654 eclipses their percentage of games won at Minute Maid Park, which is .593. In the 81 games played outside of Houston, the Astros scored 501 runs, which is also best in the Majors this season.” In other words, if they were sign stealing at home it hurt them as they had a better record on when they were on the road.

What about the pitchers the Astro cheated when they knew what pitch was coming and took advantage of the situation to launch a baseball into orbit? Did those actions change the “truth of the game”? Consider Yu Darvish who lost two games as the LA Dodgers starting pitcher in the 2017 World Series. According to Mac Engel who compared Darvish’s pre-World Series playoff record to his abysmal World Series performance, “In his NLDS and NLCS starts, Darvish was 2-0. He combined to throw 11 1/3 innings where he allowed eight hits, two runs with 14 strikeouts. He started Game 3 in both series. In the World Series, Darvish was 0-2 with a 21.60 ERA. In two starts, he allowed nine runs, eight earned, on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings with — and I can’t believe this — zero strikeouts.” Now take the following multiple-choice quiz:

  1. Did the Astros sign stealing change Darvish’s ability to get batters out in the World Series?
  2. Did Darvish simply perform one of the greatest chokes of all-time on baseball’s biggest stage?
  3. Did the Astros get inside his head so that he thought they were on to him?
  4. Was it something else, such as MLB changing the baseball for the World Series, making the grip different so that Darvish couldn’t grip the ball properly and throw his signature slider?
  5. All of the above?
  6. None of the above?

For his part, Darvish has simply said that he wants to join the Parade for the Dodgers which will follow the Astros being stripped of their 2017 World Series title and it being awarded to LA. I guess we know which answer he would choose.

If your head is spinning by any or all of this, you are not alone. The Astros did cheat and they did cheat in a manner banned by MLB. Even if all the above statistics were anomalies, simply great (or terrible performances) by individual players or the breaks of the game; these games will always be questioned. Now Altuve’s 2019 game-winning walk-off home run he hit off Yankees reliever Chapman will always be questioned because Altuve did not want his teammates to tear off his shirt. Moreover, each Astro who played on the 2017 and 2018 teams will have the moniker ‘Cheater’ attached to him whatever he does in the future and wherever he may go.

Why do we have ethics in sports? Is it to teach youngsters the importance of fair play as a social construct? Is it to create a level playing field so that those who compete do so based on hard work, ability and skills alone and not some nefarious ‘edge’? Is it to protect the billions made by baseball  and will be made in the future? Or is it because it simply is the right thing to do? Do you play fairly so you will not be called ‘cheater’ the rest of your life? Whatever your answer is to that first question might be as the Special One said long ago, the Astros have changed the truth of the game.

In the next blog post, some reflections on the whistleblower and the amnesty given to the players.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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