The punishments in the Boston Red Sox sign-stealing scandal were handed out Wednesday afternoon, and baseball fans across the country were immediately up in arms.
Here’s our first truth of the day, though: The punishments, almost no matter what commissioner Rob Manfred settled on — or when they were finally handed down, a couple of months later than expected — were never going to satisfy the masses. Manfred had been pretty clear about one thing: No players were going to be punished, just as was the case with the Astros investigation. They were given immunity in exchange for their honest testimony.
You can debate the merits of that decision all you want — more on that in a moment — but that was the foundation for punishments. And without any sort of player punishment involved, any sort of overall Red Sox punishment (for infractions that happened in 2018) was going to be deemed a “slap on the wrist.”
And, yep, that was the reaction. Pounds of flesh were not taken.
MORE: Evan Gattis says Astros’ sign-stealing apologies “not f—ing good enough”
I will admit that suspending J.T. Watkins, the team’s video replay system operator, as the only personnel punishment seems exceptionally light. Especially when Manfred said this in his report: “While this does not excuse or justify his conduct, I do believe that it created a situation in which he felt pressure as the Club’s primary expert on decoding sign sequences to relay information that was consistent with what he naturally observed on the in-game video.”
Watkins was suspended for the 2020 season (if there is one) and cannot be the replay room operator in 2021. One cannot help but think of the famous quote uttered by UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian: “The NCAA is so mad at Kentucky it will probably slap another two years probation on Cleveland State.”
The other punishments for Boston: the loss of their 2020 second-round pick and a ban of Alex Cora through the 2020 playoffs — but only for Cora’s involvement in Houston’s 2017 sign-stealing.
Here’s our second truth of the day: Major League Baseball got exactly what it wanted out of these two sign-stealing scandals/investigations/punishments.
The primary reason MLB offered immunity to the players is this: MLB wanted to know exactly what happened, because that would bring this ugly chapter to an end. The worst-case scenario, if MLB tried to punish players but no players talked, is that information would have spilled out, in bits and pieces, over maybe the next several years. MLB wanted this done. Finished. That was the primary goal, not doling out punishments.
Punishing players would have been tricky. Proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that a player was guilty would have been tough because it would have likely been a he-said/he-said situation. And that punishment would certainly have been appealed, both in the court of public opinion and in front of an arbitrator. That would have been a long, ugly process, and again, it was pretty clear that Manfred’s goal was to end this chapter as thoroughly and quickly as possible.
Along those lines, there was another thing to consider, too: MLB and the MLBPA are heading toward what will certainly be a contentious CBA negotiation (the current one expires in 2021), and this is not a fight MLB needs to pick with the MLBPA right now. Especially when the path to victory as it relates to player punishments was murky, at best.
So this is the path MLB chose, and even though it won’t sit well with everyone, the powers that be are certainly satisfied with how it’s played out.