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Butherus: What is cheating?

I remember back in Little League, we would steal the shit out of your signs.

I was good at it too.

As a pitcher, you knew what to look for.

Sorry Jimmy, going to your chest protector was a crap indicator.

We even had a system. If you cracked the opposing team’s signs while you were on second, you would chat up the batter using their first name if it was a fastball. You used their last name if it was an offspeed pitch.

“Hey, let’s go, Foster!”

The only downside was that I sucked as a hitter and I rarely found myself on second base.

It wasn’t cheating. I was just smarter than you. It was a part of the game. Baseball is 72 percent being smarter than your opponent.

It wasn’t cheating because me and my teammates didn’t need anything more than what we could bring out onto the field. That sense of what was right or wrong carried over into every subsequent level of play, from high school and into college.

Then the lines got blurred. Absurd amounts of money made people do stupid things in the name of gaining an advantage over the next guy. And we, as fans and as professional documenters of the sport, let them do it. It started with “greenies” in the 80s. It moved on to steroids in the 90s. The new century brought video surveillance and advanced medicine that allowed athletes to achieve levels of performance that is otherwise inhumanly impossible.

Seriously. Want to add five MPH to your fastball? Just add another tendon in your throwing arm with UCL replacement surgery.

And we all condoned it. Need proof? Way too many of my friends and former colleagues included Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens on their Hall of Fame ballots. They cheated. There is no doubt about that. Yet those with BBWAA honors still have no issues giving them the highest possible honor in the sport of baseball.

Which brings me to the current situation with the Astros. They crossed that unwritten line of bringing something besides what they naturally bring onto the playing field to gain an advantage over the opposition. They cheated.

And no one seems to care.

If they did, the powers that be would have dropped a Pete Rose-sized hammer on the perpetrators.

Houston owner Jim Crane took advantage of the post-truth era which we all seem to live in right now by saying that it didn’t affect the outcome of any games roughly two minutes before admitting that it affected the outcome of games only to deny ever saying that he ever said that cheating affected the outcome of a game.

In a sane and rational world, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred would have stripped him of his ownership before he finished that farce of a press conference. In a perfect world, the only way Crane would ever experience the game of baseball again is by buying a ticket. In a just world, every player who was part of the cheating scandal would face the same sort of penalties as a player who violated the recreational drug policy for smoking a little reefer. Ideally, even worse.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the way our modern world works. We can complain about the whole system being rigged while never holding those who rigged it accountable. Crane will still be an unrepentant douchebag. Jose Altuve will still get praised for being a scrappy underdog who makes $29 million per season. Alex Bregman will make more money in arbitration than most of us will see in our lifetime and Manfred will come down heavier on pitchers who throw at Astros players who cheated than the actual Astros players who cheated in the first place.

Personally, I want to see Altuve tattooed on the ass with Rawlings laces by an Aroldis Chapman fastball every time the opportunity arises. I need that. I need to know that the system isn’t rigged. I need to know that there is still a line between right and wrong, no matter how blurry it may be. I have to know that somewhere there are agents of the universe who will work to maintain balance, like Jedis with rosin bags.

Otherwise, we have to accept the fact that there is no winning. At least not in a way that means anything.

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