Major League Baseball isn't always in the news in the month of January. The league that's been struggling to maintain – if not grow – its dwindling fan base may have hit the grand salami with this offseason's cheating scandal.

Major League Baseball may or may not end up stripping World Series titles from the 2017 Houston Astros and/or the 2018 Boston Red Sox, given the league's recent investigation.

There's collateral damage with the New York Mets and Carlos Beltran, who may never manage a game for the not-so Amazing Mets.

Frankly, there is collateral damage with anyone in the Astros' dugout and organization associated with the so-called scandal.

But is this the worst thing that's ever happened to Major League Baseball? No.

Is it the Boys of Summer's best January publicity since the greatest hitter of all time, Ted Williams, was named manager of the Washington Senators 50 years ago today? Maybe.

When I first heard of the Astros' cheating, I was under the impression that the team used some home-field technological advantage through hidden video cameras and wired-up players. This may not be the case. A report this week said the team simply watched the televised video in real time. If that is, indeed, the case, well, it changes my perspective a bit.

On the other hand, if rumors about Houston's Jose Altuve’s wearing a wire that would indicate what pitches were coming are true, that's beyond the limit of gaining a sporting edge. MLB said it found no evidence to substantiate those rumors, though.

Commissioner Rob Manfred told Sports Illustrated this week. “I will tell you this: We found no Band-Aid buzzer issues. There’s a lot of paranoia out there.”

Manfred should know about paranoia on this matter, too. His gag order on Major League Baseball only adds to the paranoia. The last thing he wants right now is to have a player speak out about his own team stealing signals or doctoring baseballs.

Three months ago, Manfred was quoted as saying this about cheating in baseball: “I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time."

Who is Manfred kidding? Maybe there's no crying in baseball, but there's been cheating for more than a century. If Manfred believes the Astros were the only ones to "cheat" by stealing opposing teams' signals during their World Series run, then he must also believe that no other team used a corked bat, a scuffed baseball or a different set of signals to steal signs.

The old teammate encouragement from the dugout comes to mind. If players call you by your first name, it's a fastball; last name, it's a curve. After a few innings, switch it up.

From what I've read in recent days, the Astros were fairly adept at picking up signals from opposing catchers to their pitchers. Reportedly, the team would alert their batters to off-speed pitches by banging on the dugout railing or a garbage can. If there was no alert, the batter anticipated a fastball. 

Former Chicago White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar figured out their system and used it to his advantage by telling the catcher to put down the signal for a fastball. He struck the Houston batter out on the next pitch – a curveball. 

Granted, there is an advantage for the hitter if he knows – for certain – what pitch is coming. However, this is not altogether different from many, many instances of teams looking for similar advantages – on all levels. 


How many Little Leaguers or high school baseball players, after reaching second base, flashed a single digit (fastball) or a two-finger sign (curve) to their teammate at the plate as soon as the opposing catcher put down his sign for the pitcher? I know I did it. If caught, one might be prepared to duck in his next at-bat. In other words, it was self-policed by the players.

I flat-out guarantee that if a Nolan Ryan or a Bob Gibson or a Don Drysdale even suspected the opposing team was flashing his catcher's signs, they would settle the matter in an instant on the field. The next pitch would be 95-plus right in the ear. Believe it.

Cheating in Major League Baseball is as old as the game itself. There are stories from a century ago of home teams moving first base a few inches toward right field if the opposing team had a fast runner or excellent bunter. This would give an infielder just a split-second more time to make the defensive play.

In another offseason baseball story, Burleigh Grimes died on Dec. 6, 1985 at the age of 92 in Clear Lake, Wisc. Grimes was MLB's last pitcher officially permitted to throw the spitball – an illegal pitch, banned in 1920. However, Major League Baseball allowed Grimes to throw the illegal pitch until he retired 14 years later. Was he a cheater? That's arguable, since the league did not apply its rules against him.

By the way, Grimes won 270 games, pitched in four World Series and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964. Cheater-cheater or winner-winner, chicken dinner?

One of the most famous home runs in baseball history was the "shot heard 'round the world. "The New York Giants' Bobby Thompson hit the pennant-winning home run in 1951 off Brooklyn's Ralph Branca. The game was the first ever televised nationally. Later reports said Thompson was tipped off to which pitch was coming.

Let's face it: There probably hasn’t been a game in MLB history where at least one player, manager or coach hasn’t tried to steal a sign. It's part of the game – and in calmer times, it was not considered cheating. It was considered outworking and outsmarting your opponent.

And it's not that much different in other sports. Teams send scouts to watch future opponents. They record teams' tendencies. If they notice certain signals for certain plays, they share that. In poker terms, they look for a "tell." Is that cheating? Or is it better gamesmanship?

Unless it's proved that the Astros – or any other team – implemented hidden technology to obtain a significant home-field advantage, I think MLB should just enjoy its offseason buzz and try to capitalize on the hype once the 2020 season begins. Watching the live TV feed that's available to almost everyone in the stadium just doesn't seem that sinister. Fans should relax and have some fun with it. (Even Dodgers fans.)

It's January, after all, and people are talking baseball. That's a home run for everyone.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.