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My Reaction To The MLB Sign Stealing Scandal? Meh.

Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora speaks during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston, Sept. 30, 2019. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora speaks during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston, Sept. 30, 2019. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

In every sport, athletes and their coaches look for an advantage. This is especially true at the elite level, where even a small edge can make a difference.

This is not to suggest that knowing what pitch is coming next is a small advantage. It’s a big one. It’s difficult to hit a Major League curveball, but it’s more difficult if you have to worry that the pitch won’t be a curveball, but a fastball or a slider.

What distinguishes what the Astros did when Alex Cora was with them and what the Red Sox apparently did after he joined them is the use of electronics.

The attempt to steal another team’s signs isn’t new. Bench players have been doing it since catchers first began showing pitchers their twitching fingers and pitchers began docilely accepting the suggestions or telling the catchers to mind their own business… and since coaches began suggesting hitters should bunt by pulling on their earlobes and then brushing a hand twice across the chest, rather than by calling timeout, running down the third base line to the hitter, and whispering “bunt.”

Successful sign stealers have been prized members of lots of ball clubs.

The one certainty is that whether considered merely a mischievous stunt or a crime against the very soul of the nation, this scandal too will pass.

It’s no surprise that when instant replay and iPhones and tablets and trash cans became standard equipment in Major League clubhouses and dugouts that these devices…

Wait. Trash cans?

Yup. My own favorite feature in the sign-stealing scheme allegedly developed by now-former Sox manager Alex Cora had somebody telling the hitter which pitch to expect by banging on a trash can. I find this encouraging. It suggests that so far, no team has installed in the skulls of their players chips which would enable those players to receive news about the next pitch without the benefit of somebody banging on a trash can.

But it’s only a matter of time.

No good can come of Trash Can Gate for the Red Sox. The Houston Astros fired the manager and general manager who were in charge when Alex Cora was allegedly working his scheme there. That proved to be a tough precedent to buck, and the Red Sox front office dropped Cora on Tuesday night.

But should the institution of Major League Baseball be entirely dismayed? Perhaps not. If there had been no sign-stealing scandal, who’d be talking about baseball in January?

The Astros caper and the Alex Cora story have given baseball fans something to discuss at a time of year when the thunder and roar of the oncoming Super Bowl usually drown out everything having to do with our other games.

In this Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, right, and A.J. Hinch pose after Hinch is introduced as the new manager of the baseball club in Houston. Hinch and Luhnow were fired Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, after being suspended for their roles in the team's extensive sign-stealing scheme from 2017. (Pat Sullivan/AP)
In this Sept. 29, 2014, file photo, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, right, and A.J. Hinch pose after Hinch is introduced as the new manager of the baseball club in Houston. Hinch and Luhnow were fired Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, after being suspended for their roles in the team's extensive sign-stealing scheme from 2017. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

It’s probably an overstatement to suggest — regarding this infraction — that any publicity is good publicity, but talk of the current scandal is bound to remind fans of other tales of malfeasance great and small, ranging from corked bats that fell apart in the hands of hitters to pitches doctored with everything from pine tar to Vaseline. (Somewhere — probably in North Carolina — celebrated pitch-technician Gaylord Perry, 81, is smiling.) Talk of Pete Rose and other less notorious offenders will surface. Somebody will bring up the asterisk that never was attached to Roger Maris’s home run record and wonder whether a similar bit of imaginary decoration will hover over the Red Sox 2018 Championship.

The one certainty is that whether considered merely a mischievous stunt or a crime against the very soul of the nation, this scandal too will pass. In another few weeks, once the Super Bowl Express has disappeared down the track, it will be time to consider spring training. Some Boston fans will be talking about the damage done, and they will curse whatever discipline Major League Baseball imposes on their team. But more of them will be thinking in terms of recovery, and the happiest will simply be grateful that it’s almost time again to watch an outdoor game.

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