Major League Baseball has only one way out of its latest cheating scandal.
The league must strip the Houston Astros of their 2017 World Series championship.
I don’t say that lightly. I was a huge fan of that team and of how it put together the roster and won its first-ever championship. Jose Altuve is my favorite player in baseball.
But if you’re MLB, what other options do you have?
What Houston did can’t be compared to other controversies, like a team getting busted for violating the rules of signing international free agents. The Atlanta Braves did that a few years ago and their general manager at the time, John Coppolella, was given a lifetime ban.
Pete Rose got the same punishment for betting on baseball, a discretion that falls more in line with what the Astros did. They both impugned the integrity of the on-field product. (I don’t buy Rose’s continued claims that he never bet on his own team).
To me, there is no more serious offense in sports than that.
You can slap the organization with a multimillion dollar fine, but remember that a multibillionaire will ultimately be paying it.
You can strip them of draft picks, but a team that was top 10 in payroll this past season can find ways to compensate for that.
You can mete out player and coach suspensions, but Houston might not have much of a team left after that.
You can do all of those things, and perhaps the league still should to some extent, but the ultimate punishment is to deprive them of the reason they cheated in the first place: that World Series trophy.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said recently that he has no reason to believe this issue extends beyond one ballclub, but neither he nor I are naive enough to think Houston is the only one cheating. Manfred just wants to keep this a narrow investigation and avoid opening up a can of worms, and in a way I don’t blame him.
Still, he has to send notice that if you get caught you will be severely punished. The Astros’ championship is forever tainted anyway, so you might as well relieve them of it.
Mike Hautamaki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.