Baseball has a major cheating scandal on its hands, and harsh punishment is being handed out. Now many are clamoring for new rules to combat future abuses. The best course of action, however, might be to take a page from the libertarians and do nothing. More often than not, being heavy-handed with rules and regulations often makes matters worse.
If you’re any sort of baseball fan, you are well aware that the Houston Astros have been severely punished for a cheating scandal that alleges they stole other teams’ signs electronically during the 2017 season. This is the same year the Astros won the World Series. Next are allegations that the Boston Red Sox also may have stolen other teams’ signs via electronic methods in 2018, the year they won the World Series. Most baseball experts feel both the Red Sox and Astros just happened to get caught, and this type of cheating is common among several teams.
For background, a little history lesson on baseball and sign stealing is appropriate to give the scandal context.
Sign stealing, which is the act of reading and decoding the catcher’s signs to the pitcher of what type of pitch is to be thrown next (fastball, curveball, etc.), and then relaying that information to the batter, has been around just about as long as people have been playing baseball, with the first recorded incident happening in 1876. Not that many years ago, a player who could steal a catcher’s signs and relay them to a teammate was thought of as having a high baseball IQ and as a great competitor. If the cheating got out of hand, the players would police the problem on their own. This was done by the pitcher throwing a high and tight pitch at the head of the alleged spy the next time he came up to bat. A 90-mph baseball headed to your noggin has a tendency to make you think twice before the next time you steal signs.
This is, of course, was before all the cheating involved cameras, cell phones, instant video feeds, and other outside high-tech sources which included non-player personnel. Once that happened, the whole public attitude of cheating in baseball changed.
This plus an interesting cultural shift has happened that has made this a hot button issue. We as a country are more prudish than in the past and take our sports far more seriously. Take, for example, Gaylord Perry, a pitcher who was known to throw an illegal spitball and was quite effective doing it, making it to the Hall of Fame after retiring in 1983. It was a running gag that he was throwing doctored baseballs, and for the most part fans, players, and Gaylord publicly laughed and joked about it. This frivolity wouldn’t be tolerated today.
As baseball experts suggest new rule changes to combat cheating, I caution everyone to be careful what you wish for and beware the rule of unintended consequences. Ask yourself in life, whether it is politics, economics, or in your own personal daily doings, how have heavy-handed, top-down bureaucratic rules and regulations worked out for you?
Take, for starters, the impossibility of baseball policing sign stealing. Assuming 300 pitches a game, there are roughly 729,000 pitches a season, not including playoffs. Good luck in making sure each one is on the up and up.
When it comes to kneejerk rule-making after bowing to public pressure, sports, like governments, are awful at doing it and usually make matters worse. Take this year’s NFL rule on making pass interference reviewable after the Saints lost the NFC Championship due to a no call. The new rule was confusing to fans and players and enforced sparingly, making it more perplexing and controversial than satisfying.
We often confuse action with solutions, and because of this the pressure will be intense for more rules and regulations on teams. As unsatisfying as it sounds, sometimes the best course of action is to do nothing.
Matthew Kastel is a 25-year veteran of working as an executive in the world of sports, including professional teams, organizations, and some of the largest vendors in the industry. Matt has also written two novels and teaches and lectures at universities on the business of sports. For more information you can visit his website at thirdstrikeproductions.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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