Joe Montana was quite pithy on the topic of sports cheating in 2015, addressing specifically the so-called Deflategate of the New England Patriots, when he said, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.”
Coming from a quarterback whose bust is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, someone who led the San Francisco 49ers to four Super Bowl wins, and who was the game MVP in three of those, Montana’s sentiments are worth noting at a time when Major League Baseball is dealing with its sign-stealing scandal.
To begin with, it’s more than a little amusing that baseball is a sport that celebrates the stolen base, that doesn’t mind stealing the opponents signs as long as mechanical or electronic devices are not involved, and tolerates big-money franchises repeatedly “stealing” talent that has been developed by franchises that are less well-endowed financially.
Baseball even has had a World Series promotional hookup with a fast-food chain the past seven seasons in which a stolen base netted “stolen” tacos for a couple of hours one day down the line, at participating franchises.
It’s name? “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco.” Next season they might want to try Steal a Sign, Steal a Series.
At this point I’d like to interject that I certainly hope the Pirates haven’t been guilty of illegal sign stealing. Not that I have a major ethical problem with it. It just would be doubly embarrassing if they were stealing signs and still couldn’t win.
For those keeping score at home, the Houston Astros have been found guilty of sign stealing and have had penalties imposed on them. The Astros won the 2017 World Series and lost in seven games to Washington last season.
Reports have indicated the signs were stolen using video cameras and the information relayed to batters with methods ranging from banging a garbage can, to having buzzers on their bodies.
The Boston Red Sox, World Series champs in 2018, also are being investigated for illegal sign stealing.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was out with an interview the past week saying there are no plans to strip those World Series titles from the Red Sox or Astros, even though the Los Angeles City Council has passed unanimously a resolution urging MLB to award those titles to the Dodgers, Series losers those seasons.
Baseball is no stranger to scandal, having dealt with the steroid slugger era, Pete Rose’s betting on baseball and the Black Sox Scandal, in which Chicago White Sox star “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and seven teammates were accused of throwing the 1919 Series for $5,000 each and were permanently banned from baseball despite all having been acquitted in a court trial.
Jackson supporters through the years have noted that he had a then-record 12 base hits in the series, batted .375, had no errors, and even threw out a Cincinnati runner at home plate, not exactly the stat line of a guy throwing the Series.
Olympic Games have been replete with scandals through the years with juiced sprinters or East German women’s swimmers, questionable judging, technological cheating in fencing (by a Russian, no less), underage gymnasts and questionable do-overs (Russians again vs. U.S. men in basketball).
Who can forget Danny Almonte and his 76-miles-an-hour fastball leading a team from The Bronx to third place in the 2001 Little League World Series? But Almonte was a 14-year-old at the time, two years beyond the age limit.
Lance Armstrong had some illegal substance aid in winning seven Tour de France cycling races and ended up being stripped of those wins.
Rosie Ruiz took a ride on the subway to help her win the 1980 Boston Marathon, which improved her personal best time by 20 minutes and eventually got her apparent win overturned.
But the all-time low in cheating came during the 2000 Paralympics, fittingly in the Land Down Under, Australia.
The Spanish men took the gold medal in basketball for mentally disabled athletes. But only two of the players had IQ’s below the mandated 70 cutoff.
The rest had faked it.
When celebration pictures showed up in the media back home, readers who knew some of the players personally, also knew they were not qualified to compete in the event and spoke out.
The team was stripped of the gold medals.
Compared with this bit of ethical limbo, the Astros and Red Sox stealing signs doesn’t seem quite as dastardly.