My wife Sophia and I spent a few days in Florida last week – Palm Beach County to be exact. The country’s scandal capital.
I’m not referring to Mar-O-Lago but rather to the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, a few miles west of the Trump Winter White House and hangers-on clubhouse. The Ballpark is the spring training site of the American League Champion Houston Astros. I’m not sure whether or not I should attach an asterisk to the team name but their claims on league titles seem like they should be a bit shaky at this point in time.
In 2017 the Astros won the World Series, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers. In the past few months, however, it has become known that Houston players and coaches had stolen signs from Dodger catchers to their pitchers. That allowed Houston batters to know what type of pitch (fastball, curve ball, etc.) the pitcher was about to throw, which helped Houston batters.
For you political folks that would be like if Donald Trump, in 2016, knew about the strategic emails of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. The Astros, however, as far as we know did not collude with a foreign adversary.
To date the Houston scandal has cost the jobs of the Houston manager and general manager; Boston’s manager, who was a coach with Houston in 2017; and the New York Mets’ new manager, who played for Houston in 2017. None of the other Houston players from the 2017 team has been fired or disciplined.
Nonetheless there will be other consequences of some sort for the players. At a Houston game we attended last week there was considerable booing and cat-calls as particular players came to bat, such as center fielder George Springer, who was directly involved in the sign stealing.
There is also some sort of punishment involved for the Houston team this year because they ironically share the Palm Beach training facility with the Washington Nationals, who defeated the Astros in the 2019 World Series.
As a sidelight, the game we saw was a home game for the Nationals. As part of the show there was a race of the presidents between innings – like the Buffalo Bisons’ races involving chicken wing, celery and blue cheese dressing.
The Nats have the presidents race at every home game in DC, so the spring training version is a natural attraction. The selection of which presidents would be participants as the costumed, big-headed characters was interesting. The contestants were a great selection – William Howard Taft, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. All three were Republicans and all three only won the White House once. Coolidge as Vice President was part of the scandal-ridden Harding administration and Hoover’s actions and inactions led to the great depression of the 1930’s. History does have a habit of repeating itself.
It seems unlikely that a Donald Trump caricature would ever be used in future races of the presidents at Nationals’ games since the heads of the characters are only about two feet wide by three feet tall.
Back to the baseball scandal, it appears that Kellyanne Conway or Baghdad Bob might be advising the Houston team on their public relations strategy, which has generally consisted of lying and trying to minimize damage to the principals. The Houston owner, Jim Crane, first said “You know our opinion is, you know, that this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series, and we’ll leave it at that.” A few seconds later Crane said “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.” Crane said sign stealing “could possibly” help his team, but then again it “could possibly not.”
Crane denied any responsibility for the scandal. “I don’t think I should be held accountable. I’m here to correct it. It won’t happen again on my watch.”
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has also stumbled his way through the mess. When it was suggested that Houston should forfeit the 2017 World Series and its trophy, he described the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal.” He has taken no direct disciplinary action against those involved except for a $5 million team fine (chump change in professional sports) and the loss of a couple draft choices. (The firings of the managers were actions by the teams involved, not the league.)
The 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal led to the indictment, but not convictions, of eight players of the Chicago White Sox team. The scandal is remembered by a comment a young fan reportedly made to Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the players involved in throwing the Series. The kid’s comment: “say it ain’t so, Joe.” Say it ain’t so, Mr. Manfred.
Baseball in 2020 will live with the mess that the Houston team created. Efforts to minimize the scandal will backfire. I know some politico readers of this blog are thinking, where have I seen this show before?
Hall of Fame New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who is now part-owner of the Miami Marlins, summed things up this way: “It’s like a slow drip of responses coming out from everyone… You hope at some point people can just move on. But look, it’s unfortunate. It’s a black eye for the sport.”
Politics in the Trump era accepts lying, covering up, and never accepting responsibility for anything that goes wrong. The Houston Astros scandal is running on a parallel course. Scandal lingers when truth is an afterthought. Sad.
A footnote on another Palm Beach County scandal
It just so happens that a Publix Supermarket in Jupiter, Florida where we have shopped while in the area is in the same plaza where New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft went shopping for a massage last year, resulting in legal action against him. Kraft was charged with two counts of solicitation of prostitution but with the help of high-powered attorneys, including Trump and O.J. Simpson attorney Alan Dershowitz, the case fell apart. It must be nice to be rich. The massage parlor is now gone from the plaza.