“Spring training means flowers, people coming outdoors, sunshine, optimism, and baseball. Spring training is a time to think about being young again.” So said the great Ernie Banks, the most optimistic of all optimistic baseball players.
Baseball has been called the “national pastime” since at least 1856. Now that spring training has begun, “hope springs eternal” yet again for the thirty Major League Baseball (MLB) teams. Not to mention the 261 minor league teams and the 15.6 million Americans who play amateur baseball. (By comparison, 5.16 million Americans participate in tackle football.)
But this is a year for baseball unlike any other in 101 years. And my beloved Houston Astros are to blame.
I’m a lifelong Astros fan
I have been a Houston Astros fan from the time I was old enough to follow baseball. Growing up in Houston, cheering for the Astros was a citywide passion. We had some really bad teams in those days, but we didn’t care. I’ve been to more Astros games than to all other sporting events combined.
That’s why the Astros’ World Series victory in 2017 was so important for so many of us. It’s the only MLB championship in our state’s history. And it came by defeating the hated Yankees to get to the Series, then the famed Los Angeles Dodgers to win the championship.
With so many outstanding young players, the Astros have been touted as a dynasty in the making. And they may still be. But the pride that I and so many Houstonians took in the team is gone. Now they’re a warning we do well to heed today.
“Looking back at it, it was just bad”
Here’s the story in brief.
Mike Fiers, a pitcher who played for the Astros in 2017, told the Athletic last November that the team used a video camera in center field to film the opposing team’s signs to its pitchers. Players or team staffers watching the live camera feed then signaled to the batter what kind of pitch was coming.
MLB opened an investigation, concluding in January 2020 that Fiers’s allegations were correct. The Astros’ manager and general manager were suspended for the 2020 season (the team fired both on the day their suspensions were announced). The team was fined the maximum allowable $5 million and stripped of its first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
The Astros’ bench coach in 2017, Alex Cora, later became the manager of the Boston Red Sox (leading them to the 2018 World Series); he and the team mutually parted ways. Carlos Beltrán, the only player specifically named in the investigation, had recently been named manager of the New York Mets but lost his job as well.
Now that spring training has begun, the Astros have made their first public statements about the scandal. However, what their owner said left fans even more frustrated. “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game,” Jim Crane told reporters. (He later contradicted himself and stated, “We’re apologizing because we broke the rules.”) The players also claimed that their scheme did not affect the results of the 2017 postseason and that their World Series trophy should not be taken away.
Several have, however, expressed personal remorse. Shortstop Carlos Correa was especially adamant: “We were wrong for everything we did in 2017. It’s not what we stand for. It’s not what we want to portray as an organization, and we were definitely wrong about all that and we feel really sorry. We affected careers, we affected the game in some way, and looking back at it, it was just bad.”
The tu quoque fallacy
This is the biggest scandal in baseball since eight players on the 1919 Chicago White Sox were accused of taking bribes to lose the World Series (the infamous “Black Sox” scandal). If the Astros knew what they were doing was wrong, why did they do it?
Various Astros personnel reportedly told MLB investigators about eight other teams who used technology to steal signs in 2017 or 2018. If true, we can see how the Astros could rationalize doing what other teams were doing so as not to lose a competitive edge.
This is known as the tu quoque fallacy (Latin for “you too”). When you catch me doing something wrong, I blame you for doing the same or worse.
Such transference is part of the human condition. When God asked Adam and Eve why they ate the forbidden fruit, Adam shifted the blame to Eve and Eve to the serpent (Genesis 3:12–13). From then until now, Satan has tempted us to sin by reminding us of the sins of others.
“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed”
The only remedy is to decide that anything we must sin to obtain costs more than it is worth.
It doesn’t matter if others are committing similar sins. The epidemic of opioid addiction does not justify adding to its number.
And the voice that tells us no one will know or be hurt is lying to us. Jesus was blunt: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known” (Luke 12:2).
On the positive side: when we choose to be godly even though unpopular, the sacrificial uniqueness of our integrity becomes a compelling witness to others. Skeptics can dismiss spirituality that benefits the spiritual, but they find it more difficult to explain character that comes at a significant cost.
Will you demonstrate such character today?
NOTE: The same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you. The same Spirit who threw aside death’s door and called the crucified Carpenter to life dwells in you right now. How can you experience his victory over your greatest challenges today? I discuss this question and more in Empowered: A Guide to Experiencing the Power of the Holy Spirit. Please request your copy today.