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Is the sign-stealing scandal good for baseball?

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Betteridge’s law of headlines holds that “any headline that is posed as a question can be answered with the word no.”

I have, on occasion, specifically written articles with question headlines in which the answer is “yes” just to mess with this rather esoteric concept, but it was hard! Really, when you see a question in a headline, answer “no” and you will be right every time. At least every time in which there isn’t a writer trying to be cute.

I put that question in there, however, because it’s the basic argument posed by Rodger Sherman at The Ringer today. After noting — somewhat disingenuously given his thesis — how very bad the sign-stealing scandal is, Sherman writes this:

With that said: I have never been more interested in baseball than I am right now. And I don’t think I’m alone! It’s February, and every sports fan I know is locked in on following the latest spring training developments. We are hooting and hollering every time a new baseball player goes in on the Astros. We are eager to debate which teams will bring down baseball’s newest menace. Why do you think my editor asked me, a football writer, to write about baseball? Because we can’t stop clicking on articles about baseball! You’re here, aren’t you?

He gives three basic reasons for why this is actually good:

  1. Sports are better when there are villains to root against;
  2. The players who have spoken out against the Astros — guys like Mike Trout and Justin Turner — are like heroes now; and
  3. The details of the cheating itself — the technical side of it — is fascinating.

I know a lot of people agree with number one. I don’t, personally, as I don’t really see sports as a battle between good and evil and have a very hard time trying to pretend it is, but I realize I’m in the minority there. That said, when people are rooting against hated rivals and create villains it tends to based on superficial kind of things. “Their star is a big diva!” or “that guy flipped off the bleachers in 2014!” The relatively low stakes of these “hatreds” makes the rooting fun in ways that hatreds based on actually serious issues like, I dunno, violating the competitive integrity of the sport are not. At least in my view.

Number two is just the other side of the coin, right? If I’m rooting for Mike Trout it’s because he hits baseballs 425 feet at 110 m.p.h. without breaking a sweat, not because he can give a good standup interview like Ric Flair or someone. Really, both of these items are why people like wrestling, really, not why they like baseball. I view those as very different kinds of entertainments.

As for the final one: yeah, it’s sort of interesting to learn all the details about the cheating on an intellectual level, but like most bad acts, it’s rather banal when you boil it down. Someone who works for people who do not consider ethics to be a driver and moderator of creative impulses developed an algorithm, people who value winning more than sportsmanship exploited it and that exploitation came in the form of banging on Rubbermaids. That’s not exactly like the “Ocean’s 11” heist. It’s more like your more typical smash-and-grab.

Anyway, I get why all this might be interesting to a given observer, but I don’t get what makes it good for baseball.

Report: President Trump wants sports to return by August or September

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Adrian Wojnarowski and Adam Schefter report that President Donald Trump told the sports commissioners on today’s conference call that he hopes that the leagues can re-open their doors to fans by August or September. The conference call, as we wrote earlier today, included a who’s-who of sports decision-makers.

Trump reportedly also said that the NFL can open on schedule in September, and urged the commissioners to work together to lobby for sports-related tax credits for consumers.

It’s hard to imagine MLB being able to get anything resembling a full season done if the game doesn’t resume until August or September. Even with the proposal to play a lot of double-headers in consideration, that would be asking an awful lot of the players, especially the pitchers. The season could theoretically stretch on into October, with the playoffs being held in warm-weather environments and domes in November. Yet that would depend on COVID-19 being contained in those locations, and would also impact the length of the offseason. Players would have less time to heal and rest up for next year’s spring training.

Trump’s benchmarks are also being set without any real sense for the scale of the pandemic given the abysmal lack of testing taking place to track the spread of the virus. The CDC and other health outlets within the government are operating on educated guesses and not hard data. We could have live sports back by August, or not until November. It’s simply too soon to tell.

The decision to re-open the leagues would not be a light one. Fans will be eager to get back in the stands after such a long layoff without sports. Live sporting events pull in tens of thousands of people, and just a handful of infected fans would be able to let the virus spread like wildfire. The health of the players is also paramount. Even a single player testing positive for COVID-19 could derail the nascent season.

One thing is clear, though. If baseball isn’t able to return until September, we may as well not have a season at all. There’s a very real chance we won’t be seeing any American baseball until 2021. Now might be a good time to figure out how to livestream the KBO, which is hoping to start its season sometime next month.

If you want to learn more about COVID-19, give the CDC’s site about the virus a read. Informing yourself is the most important step.

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