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What the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal means for baseball

Over the past three seasons, the Houston Astros have been the best team in baseball. They are the only club to have won 100 games all three years, they made it to two World Series and won one championship.

That is one heck of a resume.

But now it’s obviously tainted.

I don’t think I need to tell you about all of the controversy swirling around the Astros right now. Even if you aren’t a religious follower of baseball, you know that Houston has been using technology to steal signs and relay them to its hitters in its home games, which has had a profound impact on the results of the past several seasons.

Manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were both suspended by MLB and then fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. Boston Red Sox manager and former Astros bench coach Alex Cora was dismissed. So was New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who was a member of the 2017 World Series champion Astros and apparently played a central role in the scandal.

Now, we are hearing rumors that Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman may have worn buzzers under their uniforms during games so as to be alerted at what pitches were coming. Video of Altuve rounding third base after his ALCS walk-off home run off New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman this past October seems to hint at that, as Altuve was caught telling his teammates not to tear off his jersey. While Altuve and MLB have denied wrongdoing in this regard, the conspiracy theories won’t stop.

So, what does this mean for baseball going forward?

The problem is that baseball wasn’t in a very good spot to begin with.

While I personally love the sport, a whole lot of people have either walked away from it, and younger generations don’t care about it all that much.

It lacks the pizzazz of basketball, and it’s not as exciting as football.

Throw a cheating scandal into the fray, and now, baseball is going to become unwatchable to many.

Sure, baseball made it through the steroid era in the late ’90s and early 2000s, but the difference is that the steroid era was legitimately exciting. Who doesn’t like seeing guys hit 70 home runs?

This is a unique scenario. This isn’t Mark McGwire breaking Roger Maris’ record in 1998, nor is it Barry Bonds then shattering McGwire’s record three years later.

This is an entire team cheating together in unison, and doing so meticulously without the excitement of the long ball (even though this surely helped Houston hit some homers).

Unlike the McGwire-Sammy Sosa era where ratings skyrocketed, this controversy could cause people to shoo baseball away altogether.

We have heard fans and analysts suggest taking the 2017 title away from the Astros as a solution, but what does that solve? Who do you give the championship to in that scenario? You can’t just hand it to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to Houston in seven games in the Fall Classic, because the Yankees also pushed the Astros to seven in the ALCS.

It becomes a slippery slope, and unless MLB wants to essentially rule the 2017 campaign as a wash with no champion (that won’t happen), there is nothing that can be done.

Yes, you can suspend Altuve and Bregman, and if they really were wearing buzzers, that should occur. You can punish the Astros as much as you want (and they have already been handed some hefty penalties), but that doesn’t change the fact that Houston has tainted the sport for the last three seasons.

You know what makes matters worse? Cora was supposedly the ringleader in the Astros’ sign-stealing strategy in 2017, and the following year, he managed the Red Sox to a World Series (ironically, Boston beat Houston in the 2018 ALCS).

The Red Sox are also currently being investigated for illegal videotaping that season, so what if they get nabbed? Then what? Two straight seasons of cheating teams winning championships?

Hopefully, it stops there, but with 30 teams in the majors, there seems to be a more than decent chance that this type of thing is occurring in other organizations, too.

An argument can be made that all sports probably feature some nefarious activity, and that may be true. Just look at Spygate in the NFL. But the distinction is that none of it has been as flagrant as what the Astros have done.

Maybe in a few years, everyone will forget about this, and baseball will return to normalcy. But whether it’s amphetamines, steroids, HGH and now electronic sign-stealing, there always seems to be something going on in this sport.

That does not bode well for baseball moving forward, especially considering that the sport once known as America’s past time was already in dire straits as it was.