Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Steroids blew up the record books, changed the way we look at Cooperstown talent and cast a shadow of distrust and suspicion over the National Pastime.
Sign-stealing has polluted the World Series, besmirched talented championship teams, cost four prominent executives their jobs - so far - and is making some wonder if technology should be banned from ballgames.
With the current uproar over sign-stealing, there seems to be a natural urge to measure one modern scandal against the other. Both plunged spiny tentacles deep into the soul of the baseball, but which is worse, getting jacked up chemically to play better, or swinging based on ill-gotten electronic intel?
To one former big-league player, who spoke on condition of anonymity, it's not even close. Steroids, at least, offered the potential of an even playing field, he said.
"The sign-stealing thing is 10 times worse than steroids," he said. "For steroids, at one point they weren't checking and then they were. Hitters could do it and pitchers could do it.
"In this one, the pitcher is on an island and there's nothing he can do. What is the pitcher supposed to do when someone has the signs? You can't combat it unless you take the video away."
Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood tweeted about the same topic last week, noting via his account (@Awood45):
"I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming."
Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) responded in agreement: "All day every day for the rest of time."
Why? We asked the ex-player, who said, "If you know what's coming it's like spring training and live BP, where the pitcher calls out what he's going to throw. Pitching is all about disrupting timing. If they know an off-speed pitch is coming, you can't disrupt their timing anymore.
"There's a distinct advantage to knowing what's coming and how that affects the game. It means a hitter can foul off balls they may not have or take a breaking ball they maybe wouldn't have. It means getting pitchers out of a game in four innings instead of maybe six or seven. One pitch can determine the whole game.
"At least with steroids, you still had to hit the ball. If you can't hit, taking steroids doesn't make it easier to hit the ball."
The Astros' sign-stealing has sparked plenty of anger around the game, pitting members of the same union, the Major League Baseball Players Association, against each other. Maybe it's because sign stealing is the scandal du jour, but today's players - the vocal ones, at least - seem more outraged by what the Astros did and what the Red Sox are accused of.
CC Sabathia has said repeatedly he believed the 2017 Yankees were "cheated" out of the championship that Houston won. Some players, such as former Mets pitcher Jerry Blevins, are using Twitter to call for the players involved in the scandal to come forward and "take your lumps publicly."
Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger seems willing to hand out those lumps on the field, too, tweeting last week about how throwing hard has its "perks."
And who knows if there's more to come from this scandal? Or how electronic cheating might evolve as technology and cameras push to new heights?
There's already rampant speculation about wearable devices that would buzz to alert a hitter to what pitch is coming, though MLB says it did not find evidence of that in investigating Houston.
"How many layers are there to it and how many people it affects, besides just the Astros coming up with this cheating system," the player asked. "Who knows, if they don't cheat and the Yankees beat them, does Joe Girardi keep his job?
"Do pitchers they beat up and who then got sent down have better numbers and stay in the majors? This is costing people jobs."
Still, not everyone in the game believes the sign-stealing is worse than steroids, even if it is the current scandal. A veteran major league scout said he was more appalled at the drugs than the sign-stealing, in part because "With steroids, you're knowingly putting stuff in your body to enhance your performance."
The scout argued that sign-stealing has been around in some form in the game for years. There's even a romantic element to it - a savvy player gleaning tells from a pitcher or catcher.
"We're in the electronic age now," the scout said. "Before, it was like a game, watching the coaches to pick something up. I think the cheating has gone on with a number of clubs - I don't know who - and for a while. The Astros were just exposed. The only thing that bothers me now is the buzzer. If that happened, that's above and beyond."