Ratto: The Houston Astros and New England Patriots, compare and contrast

MLB banned Hinch and Luhnow for year, prompting firing

Ray Ratto
January 13, 2020 - 1:25 pm
The Houston Astros and New England Patriots, compare and contrast

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Rob Manfred did the thing nobody thought he would do — give the Houston Astros the works, and then allowed the Astros to finish the job. Now we'll see if giving them the works, works.

In suspending general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for a year, fining the Astros $5 million, losing first and second-round draft picks for two years and essentially condemning the Astros' finest years as a by-product of their sign-stealing apparatus, Manfred became the first commissioner since Bart Giamatti to presume that the league office actually does have the power to discipline its superiors. But the funny thing about discipline is that whatever it looks like at the moment, the only true measure of its efficacy is whether it stops the behavior that made it necessary.

When owner Jim Crane doubled down and fired both Luhnow and Hinch, he acknowledged that the rest of baseball was looking for this one way or another. Crane is typically a fighter, so his quick acquiescence add to Manfred's hammer indicated that he knew that resistance was futile. But the issue is still what comes next, and what comes beyond Houston.

People keen on gaming the system will always find new ways to game it even after getting caught. The Patriots are the crowning example of that, though they are hardly the first to do so, and they have kept doing so all the way through the preposterous Bengalgate. The punishments for the Patriots' behavioral quirks have largely been restricted to Tom Brady's four-game suspension, and that mostly because he wouldn't cheerfully play ball with the NFL.

But now that Manfred had thrown a hammer, he has to retrieve it, repeat it and grow the punishment with every new example. Unless all of baseball, starting with the Boston Red Sox knows that the same is waiting for them if not worse and that the Astros made them all guilty until proven otherwise, this episode will be repeated and tinkered with and even improved. Players still use performance enhancing drugs now, even with all the 50-game suspensions that have been emitted, because the reward still inspires far more than the risk discourages.

Indeed, Manfred's decision means he has to be willing to keep doing this and more still. Knowing that Crane would complete the business allowed Manfred to send a message to Boston and beyond about the depth and breadth of his power. He won the day, but winning the issue means being willing to keep doing it and even escalating the punishment until the risk of detection outweighs the reward of cheating. This was a win, but there's still plenty of season left, as there has been with the PED fight. Pride goeth before a fall, but grows with success.

Manfred's response is far more comprehensive and directed more toward the people ostensibly in charge than any of the NFL, but the trick comes in showing how effective his second swing is. Baseball has shown a deep reluctance to learn from experience, so maybe the experience needs to grow. That will be Rob Manfred's next task, and his most meaningful. Today was jurisprudence. Tomorrow is about politics.

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