Wednesday, March 18, 2020

No Artificial Ingredients

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

Hearts race.  Knees shake.  Perspiration dots foreheads.  Anxious spectators take one last deep breath and then…

A football is booted off a tee and flies toward a far off end zone.  An umpire yells “Play Ball” and a pitcher hurls a stitched sphere toward a catcher’s mitt 60 feet and six inches away.  Two giants leap to tip an orange-ish ball tossed skyward.  A puck is dropped at center ice as sticks violently clash.    
The games begin.  Viewers exhale, but only briefly.  Adrenaline quickly swells as relentless competition continues through quarters, halves, periods or innings and ends with the scoreboard, the ultimate authority, deciding the victor - the best on this day and for this single game. 

The essence of sport resides between the lines – the rink, court, links, gridiron, pitch or diamond; there, it is player versus player, coach versus coach, scheme versus scheme and team versus team.  The result is sometimes glorious (the thrill of victory) and sometimes painful (the agony of defeat), but the process is always captivating. 

The assumption, naïve as it may be, is the competition is pure.  No one is on the take.  The combatants achieved this height of athletic competition based on merit and dedication to craft; the integrity of the sport is held in the highest regard.

That simple ask is sometimes too much for humans in general, much less highly competitive, ego-centric humans, some of whom are afflicted with a lust for wealth and fame.  The same determination required for athletes, coaches and executives to reach the pinnacle of sports can entice some to cross ethical, maybe even moral boundaries to profit or gain an advantage…or both.

The Black Sox scandal happened.  Former NBA official Tim Donaghy did make calls to manipulate point spreads.  Point shaving has occurred in college basketball.  Bad actors have funneled talent to major college programs with financial overtures.  The NFL’s greatest and most recent dynasty, the Belichick-Brady Patriots, shook our confidence with “Spygate” and “Deflategate”.  And for many (myself included), sports completely lost its innocence with the shameful explosion of PED usage in MLB near the turn of the century. 

And now, not even a generation after “the juice” soiled MLBs sacred record-books, complicated Hall of Fame inductions and made us question baseball’s identification as the national pastime, the Houston Astros have been caught stealing pitching signs using live video feeds in their dugout (and maybe signal buzzers on their person).  Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers was the first to blow the whistle in November 2019; the internet and video sleuths took it from there.  Now we know: the Astros employed the scheme in 2017 through their World Series victory and in the 2018 regular season – at the very least. 

The fallout has been swift and significant: Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, Red Sox manager Alex Cora (Astros bench coach in 2017) and Mets manager Carlos Beltran (a player on the 2017 Astros) have all been fired.  Beyond that, the Astros’ 2017 championship and the tremendous success of their talented, potent lineup is forever tainted.  This era of Astros baseball gets filed next to Barry Bonds’s flawed homerun record and Roger Clemens’s late-career revival – all accomplishments achieved with artificial ingredients.  Brand them with the cheater’s asterisk – Houston Astros* evermore.  What a shame. 

Mark Twain once said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”  How appropriate that quote is for gifted athletes who so cavalierly succumb to temptation.  But will this latest sordid episode in sports incite the universal outrage that prior scandals have?  A gaze across the American landscape suggests no.  The court of public opinion, once the nation’s great authority on standards of decency, seems more lenient.  Excursions from long shared tenets of right and wrong are quickly rationalized, sometimes even lauded, if the pursued outcome pleases certain sects of the court.  This suggests winning is valued over method or means.  And to the extent this is true, the Astros are America’s team and baseball, with its latest group of liars and cheats, is a fitting pastime.    

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