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The Astros’ apologies for their elaborate sign-stealing scheme ring hollow | COMMENTARY

Now that the Houston Astros have held a well-orchestrated news conference and apologized for the sign-stealing scheme that soiled their 2017 World Series championship, I guess we’re supposed to get on with our lives and let them get on with theirs.

Maybe it is that simple, since it’s obvious that Major League Baseball wants to get this ugly situation behind it. But the fact that there will be no tangible consequences for the players who finally took responsibility for the scandal or the organization that apparently will keep that ill-gotten trophy makes their remorse ring hollow.

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There have been calls for baseball commissioner Rob Manfred to strip the Astros of the title, and there has been understandable outrage that the players who cooperated with the MLB investigation were given immunity from the punishment they richly deserve for corrupting an entire season.

Instead, Manfred chose to play the pragmatist, making examples of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch (who were quickly fired), taking away the club’s top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and fining the organization $5 million. That sent a strong message to anyone who might consider engaging in any similar behavior in the future while only putting an imaginary asterisk beside the 2017 postseason.

The only other individuals to be directly penalized for their participation in the scheme were Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who were dismissed by those teams soon after the results of the investigation and the Astros penalties were announced.

Manfred basically instituted a new disciplinary precedent that is similar to the “lack of institutional control” standard employed by the NCAA. In effect, it serves notice that top club executives cannot plead ignorance about institutional wrongdoing that is out of their field of vision.

Of course, the NCAA has used that justification to impose bans on future postseason participation by offending schools, something that would be logistically impossible for a professional sport because it would negatively affect all of the other franchises who share in industry revenue.

Though Manfred could have stripped the Astros of their 2017 American League pennant and World Series title, he decided to let history judge the legitimacy of it, just as history has judged the records and awards that are still in possession of accused steroid offenders such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire.

Thursday’s news conference at the Astros/Nationals spring training complex and the clubhouse interview availability that followed gave team officials and players the opportunity to formally apologize to baseball fans, who can decide for themselves whether that contrition was sincere.

That’s going to be a tough sell for a lot of people outside the Astros fan base as long as owner Jim Crane continues to advance the notion that the elaborate sign-stealing operation did not help the Astros defeat the New York Yankees in the ALCS or the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

“Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game,” Crane said. “We had a good team. We won the World Series, and we’ll leave it at that.”

Really? So, the players just created this elaborate sign-stealing system because they were hoping to enter it in the science fair?

There isn’t enough room here to list all of the out-of-whack statistics that suggest the opposite.

While José Altuve appeared genuinely remorseful in a televised interview at his locker, he seemed to dodge questions about the widely circulated suspicion that he was wearing an electronic signaling device under his jersey when he hit his memorable walk-off home run off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in the 2019 ALCS.

Altuve and some of his teammates chose to cite the fact that the MLB investigation failed to prove that anyone wore buzzers rather than simply responding with a definitive denial.

Glad they cleared that up.

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