As the initial details emerged Monday regarding Major League Baseball's punishment of the Astros for illicit sign-stealing, the temptation and indeed first instinct might have been to think MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred put the hammer down on the cheating organization.
A one-year suspension for manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow? Loss of first- and second-round picks in each of the next two drafts? A $5 million fine.
Wow! Got 'em!
But then you realize this: MLB's investigation confirmed the Astros cheated by using cameras — and in 2017, when they won the World Series, "continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the Postseason" even after Manfred sent a memo to teams in mid-September warning against such behavior.
The very way by which they won a championship was significantly aided by the use of cheating tactics that were found to be confirmed by MLB's investigation.
The only logical thing to do in that situation is to strip the Astros of their World Series title and leave it vacant in addition to those other penalties.
That's the only real punishment that fits the crime and the only thing that would serve as an actual deterrent to keep teams from trying similar things going forward. We can think it's tainted all we want. If it's in the record book, time will slowly erase the asterisk.
The Patriots reportedly recorded and stole signals from teams spanning 40 games in the 2000s while they were winning three Super Bowls, and the NFL barely touched them. New England sure learned its lesson and hasn't recorded anything in controversial fashion for weeks now.
Sean Payton was suspended the entire 2012 season and the Saints lost some second-round draft picks in the Bountygate scandal. But they kept their Super Bowl title.
Organizations that think winning by any means necessary means cheating is OK will continue to cheat if nothing is done about the wins accumulated while cheating. Would cheating teams gladly sacrifice some draft picks and even key decision-makers like Hinch and Luhnow, who were fired by the Astros on Monday not long after their suspensions were announced, for a World Series title?
Yeah, they would.
Leagues are only in the business of self-preservation and avoiding public relations nightmares when they stop short of doing what they should do.
In the case of baseball, stealing signs so that batters know what pitch is coming is a massive advantage. It worked so well that Alex Cora, a central figure in the the Astros scandal, allegedly brought the scheme to Boston in 2018 as manager — when the Red Sox won the World Series.
Discipline for Cora and the Red Sox is still pending, but it could be similar to what the Astros faced. When that punishment is eventually announced, there probably will be similar initial reactions to what we heard and experienced Monday with the Astros.
Don't buy it. If you cheat to win, and it's proven, you shouldn't get to keep your championship. The Astros got a hard slap on the wrist, but it was still a slap on the wrist compared to what they deserved.