Column: Rob Manfred’s inaction is as damaging to baseball as the Astros’ cheating

Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, right, look on as Houston Astros owner Jim Crane reads a prepared statement during a news conference Feb. 13.
(Michael Reaves / Getty Images)
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Listening to the Houston Astros attempt to show remorse for the sign-stealing scandal Thursday was like listening to a guy apologizing for stealing that shiny Cadillac still sitting in his driveway.

It’s now his car, so why should he be sorry?

Nobody is making him give it back, so why should he have any regrets?

The authorities have shown no real compassion for the victims of the theft, so what’s a thief supposed to do?

If the Astros didn’t exactly beg forgiveness in their first spring meeting with the media, it’s because nobody is holding them accountable for doing anything wrong.


Astros owner Jim Crane came across as an out-of-touch plutocrat used to people telling him they agree with whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth.

Feb. 13, 2020

Major League Baseball gave them immunity. Their owner cleared them of all culpability. Their manager and general manager took the fall.

So when the entitled and empowered baseball criminals finally spoke at length at their spring training clubhouse in West Palm Beach, Fla., what did you expect them to say?

That they apologize for winning 2017 World Series rings? They still get to keep them.

That they feel awful for cashing those $439,000 individual 2017 playoff shares? They still get to spend it.

Did you want them to feel bad because they’re no longer champions? They still are, and will forever be, and that leads to the one guy who owes the biggest of apologies.

Rob Manfred, the weak-kneed baseball commissioner who is little more than a puppet for the owners who employ him, needs to apologize to the baseball world for not ordering that the Astros vacate the 2017 World Series championship.

Houston owner Jim Crane stands with the Commissioner's Trophy after the Astros' victory over the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series on Nov. 1, 2017.
Houston owner Jim Crane stands with the Commissioner’s Trophy after the Astros’ victory over the Dodgers in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series on Nov. 1, 2017.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

He has to apologize for letting ownership off the hook. He needs to apologize for not holding the players accountable. He needs to apologize for acting as if a $5-million fine and four stripped draft picks and suspensions of a general manager and manager even begin to address the wounded heart of the matter.

By allowing the Astros to keep the trophy and all of its spoils — that’s the real loot here — Manfred essentially validated their World Series win over the Dodgers and ruled that the cheating had nothing to do with the victory.

In doing so, Manfred’s actions were arguably as damaging to baseball as the scandal itself. The Astros stole pitchers’ signs, but Manfred stole a piece of the game’s integrity.

Blessed by baseball’s highest office, supported by an owner who doesn’t blame them for anything, is it any wonder the Astros either sounded like rehearsed robots or detached fools?

“I feel horrible for our sport, our game, our fans, our city, our organization,” said outfielder George Springer.

You feel sorry for the … Astros? How about feeling sorry for all the fans and cities and organizations that the Astros victimized?


After an awkward news conference by owner Jim Crane and two players, other Astros commented in the clubhouse. All expressed remorse for cheating.

Feb. 13, 2020

“We should have stopped it at the time, we didn’t, and we are paying the price for it now,” said shortstop Carlos Correa.

Woe is you. It sounds like you’re sorry not for cheating, but for getting caught.

“I’m really sorry about the choices that were made by the organization, by the team, and by me,” said Alex Bregman in an awkward, lame news conference before the clubhouse doors opened.

Sorry to whom? Why can’t you say who? And why are you listed third on the apology string? Take full responsibility for your actions, dude. Clayton Kershaw did when you raked off him in Game 5.

Bregman didn’t expound on his apology because he didn’t feel it necessary. He has his ring. He has his crown. He already won. The Astros all won. Baseball has officially deemed that losers like the Dodgers can put a sock in it.

Dodgers pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, so manager Dave Roberts was too busy to worry about the Astros’ apologies for stealing signs.

Feb. 13, 2020

Did you hear delusional Astros owner Jim Crane? With Manfred as his lackey, he felt empowered to make the following comically embarrassing statements:

The players should not be punished because: “They are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from our leaders.”


The World Series result should stand because: “This didn’t impact the game.”

Even though he runs the cheating organization: “I don’t think I should be held accountable.”

And, oh yeah: “I don’t feel it’s necessary to reach out specifically to the Dodgers.”

If anything, Manfred’s lame handling of the sign-stealing scandal has seemingly made the Astros more defiant, more powerful and more certain that their reputation will ultimately triumph over this chorus of whiners.

When the Houston Astros present themselves publicly, they will not do so as AL champions. They will do so as baseball’s greatest villains of this generation.

Feb. 12, 2020

It is now, of course, up to baseball to prove them wrong.

What the spine-challenged Manfred couldn’t do, baseball will now do.

This season the Astros will be made to feel like pariahs in every place they play. Just because they get to keep their rings doesn’t mean they will feel comfortable wearing them, and they won’t.

Pitchers will be throwing inside to them, way inside, and while this can be a dangerous option, pitchers will feel it is their way of recovering stolen goods.

Fans will boo and bang trash cans and sound buzzers every place they play but Houston, and who would blame them?

Here’s guessing the Astros’ season will quickly turn into a charade, with the baseball landscape laying down the law on baseball criminals who have largely gone unpunished.


Not that any of it will matter. Not that any of it will change anything. The sad truth will forever loom as large and glowing as that Commissioner’s Trophy displayed for eternity in a case somewhere in the offices of baseball’s no-good cheating champions.

Playing for the 2017 Houston Astros means never having to say you’re sorry.