If You Cheat, You Better Not Be Great

Chicago White Sox reliever Keynan Middleton made headlines on Wednesday night to his reaction to striking out Minnesota Twins shortstop Carlos Correa to end Chicago’s 6-4 win.

“I knew I was going to face Correa, and I don’t like him. So it was kind of cool,” Middleton said. “I like that. I enjoyed that a lot. … I mean, he’s a cheater.”

Middleton is referencing the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal of 2017 and 2018, of which Correa was a part of.

Houston’s 2017 World Series title will always be masked in controversy after Major League Baseball found that the Astros stole signs by using a center field camera, their video replay room and trash cans in the dugout. The Astros would see the sign from the catcher to the pitcher, relay that information to the dugout from the video room and then knock on a trash can to signify the upcoming pitch to the hitter.

Houston has gone of to have plenty of success since then, reaching the American League Championship Series six straight years, including winning the 2022 World Series with a handful of players still left from the 2017 team.

What the Astros did was wrong but it just goes to show that if you are found cheating, you better not be great, because if you are, the stain will never go away.

The Astros are not the only baseball team in recent years to cheat. They are just the most successful having won a World Series or two the past six seasons. The same can’t be said for the cheating New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.

The Yankees used their dugout phone to relay stolen signs in 2015 and 2016, while MLB found the Red Sox used electronic equipment, including a smartwatch, to steal and communicate signs. Baseball also found that the Yankees had stolen signs using the video room and the bullpen phone, similar to what Boston had done. We know all of this because a letter from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to New York GM Brian Cashman regarding an investigation into cheating allegations against the Yankees became public just over a year ago in late April 2022.

So why does the cloud of scandal follow the Astros around, but not the Yankees or Red Sox? It’s because Houston actually won a World Series, something the Yankees have only done once (2009) in the past 22 years, while Boston has one World Series (2018) the past nine years.

Plenty of road fans boo the Yankees or Red Sox on the road, but not because of cheating. Just because they are the Yankees and Red Sox. Throughout history, it has been shown that fans and media are kinda ok with cheating, as long as you don’t benefit too much from it.

Don’t believe me?

Why is Mike Piazza in the Hall of Fame, but other PED users are not?

Piazza has admitted numerous times, including in his autobiography, that he did take Androstenedione early in his career. Andro is a steroid and the same thing that was found in Mark McGwire’s locker during his record breaking 1998 season. Andro was a legal supplement that could be purchases at many supplement stores, but there are many things that you can buy legally that are now illegal across MLB.

So why does Piazza get a pass? He hit more HR’s than any catcher in baseball history. Is it because he was open about his supplement and steroid use instead of others who tried to hide it or deny it all together? Maybe.

David Ortiz was one of the players who had a positive drug test in 2003 when MLB did a confidential survey, testing players to understanding how big of an issue performance enhancing drugs were in baseball. Ortiz has maintained his innocence as he says it was something purchased over the counter and never failed a drug test the rest of his career. He was selected to the Hall of Fame in 2022 despite a significant increase in his production with the Red Sox in his late 20’s vs. when he was with the Twins. Do you think Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Boston teammate Manny Ramirez would have ever been selected to the Hall of Fame with that positive test in 2003?

Sosa also never officially tested positive for a banned substance and has maintained his innocence, even though he was on the same list that Ortiz was on in 2003. And like Ortiz, Sosa saw a dramatic increase in production during the late 90’s and 2000’s  because of likely PED use, but for whatever reason that is held against Sosa and not Ortiz or Piazza. Sosa will never get into the Hall of Fame because of it.

Manny Ramirez on the other hand has tested positive three times under MLB’s PED testing policy, retiring in 2011 rather than serve a 100 game suspension for a third violation. Ortiz’s meteoric rise just happened to coincide when he became teammates with Ramirez in Boston, coincidence or not.

It seems like the better you are as a player, the worst the backlash is against PED use.

You can easily make the case that Barry Bonds is the greatest player in baseball history and he never failed a drug test. The rumors and likelihood of PED use with Bonds is obvious with his physical transformation in his late 30’s, but maybe he would have a shot at the Hall of Fame if he only hit 600 HR’s instead of breaking Hank Aaron’s all-time record?

The New England Patriots have been labeled cheaters, especially for Deflategate when the footballs used in the January 2015 AFC title game vs. the Colts were deflated under regulation. Quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games, while the team was fined $1 million and forfeited two draft picks in 2016. The Patriots also went on to win the Super Bowl that year vs. Seattle, as well as another one two years later vs. Atlanta.

People hate the Patriots, Brady and head coach Bill Belichick for all sorts of reasons and Deflategate is among them. The only thing people hate more than cheaters are cheaters that win.

Now imagine that Belichick and the Patriots had gotten their hands on the opposing teams’ playbook right before a playoff game and knew everything that the other team was going to run. You think that would have been a big scandal? Well, it actually happened, just not to the Patriots.

During a recent ESPN 30 For 30 documentary on the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, QB Trent Dilfer told a story to a live crowd of hundreds that Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admitted to him years later that he stole Dilfer’s playbook and knew what the Baltimore offense was running and calling during a division playoff game that season. Now image if that story involved Belichick stealing Peyton Manning’s playbook right before a Patriots and Colts playoff game. You think that might create a few headlines and months of discussion?

So why did the Gregg Williams story not gain much traction outside of a few articles a few months ago? Maybe because the Titans still lost that divisional playoff game to the Ravens that day 24-10 despite knowing the Baltimore offense playbook. It may have gotten more attention had Tennessee gone on to win the Super Bowl that year or became a dynasty like the Patriots, but here we are, surrounding in mostly silence. The same reason why the Astros are considered cheaters, and for good reason, while the Red Sox and Yankees fly on by unscathed. The Astros won while Boston and New York didn’t.

The lesson here is that you can cheat. Many have in the past and many more will in the future. Just don’t be too good at it.