No, you can’t vacate World Series championships …

It started out as a feel-good story – the Houston Astros, whose hometown was battered and bashed by Hurricane Harvey earlier that year, finally won their first World Series championship. Imagine all the great Astros players who never even tasted a World Series title in those Tequila Sunrise unis – Nolan Ryan, JR Richard, Cesar Geronimo and the like …

This week, Major League Baseball suspended Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for the entire 2020 season for their actions – or inactions – in a sign-stealing scheme that used technology to intercept opposing players’ signs and give the Astros an unfair advantage in games.

A day later, Alex Cora, who was part of that 2017 championship squad and is now a coach with the Boston Red Sox – he got the thumb as well.

Let’s start with this.  Luhnow and Hinch (and Cora) deserved what they got.  They either participated in the scheme, or they knew about it and didn’t stop it.  And other members of the Astros organization in 2017 are sure to face retribution as well, even though they’re on other MLB squads today.

And the Astros’ punishments are not limited to those suspensions.  The team loses MLB draft picks for the next two years; and the team received a massive $5 million punitive fine.  Oh, and Luhnow and Hinch were later fired by the Astros organization, with the hopes that the team can start from a clean slate. And Cora’s out of a job as well. Wow, every manager and coach worth his salt is polishing up his resume right now. Heck, you think any of them would take Ozzie Guillen if they had the chance?

That being said, I’ve seen some armchair baseball pundits claim that because the Astros’ World Series victory was tainted, that it should be removed – that either their opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers, should be declared retroactive 2017 World Series champions, or that the title should be vacated completely.

Other armchair baseball pundits have used this story as a “wait, if this, then why not that” argument that purports that since Pete Rose bet on baseball, that he should be reinstated to Major League Baseball’s good graces and admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  “The Astros cheated and they received one year,” shout the pundits.  “Pete Rose didn’t cheat, and he’s suspended for life?  Unfair!!”

First things first.  Nobody’s going to vacate any World Series championships or batting titles or anything like that.  Nobody vacated the Chicago White Sox wins in 1919 when they reached the World Series and eventually threw the games as part of collusion with gamblers.  Nobody vacated Barry Bonds’ home runs because they were augmented with the cream and the clear. Heck, if anyone deserves a World Series title, it’s the 1994 Montreal Expos, who were leading the standings when the 1994 baseball strike hit … and God forbid that another Canadian team win the World Series for the third consecutive year.

Here’s the difference between the age-old tradition of “stealing signs” and what the Astros did.

In a baseball game, there are several forms of non-verbal communication between various parties – from the on-base coaches to the outfield, from the catcher to the pitcher.  These signs allow for the pitcher to throw the proper baseball for the moment and not have it zip past the catcher’s glove on the way to the backstop.  These signals can change every week – in some teams, it can change every inning.

By the same token, if the opposing team can figure out a difference in the pitcher’s throws – in his movement – in the way he holds the ball before the windup – then they can use that to their advantage.  If someone notices that Freddie Fireballer tends to wiggle his glove before he throws a slider, the batter will know to look for that wiggle, because a home-run-meatball slider is on the way. Of course, if Freddie Fireballer figures out that the opposing team is stealing signs, chances are the next batter is getting a 100 mph fastball right in the ear flap.

The problem is exacerbated when you bring in technology.  Now the game isn’t about a ball and a stick.  It’s about a ball and a stick and an Apple Watch.  Now the game isn’t about how smart you are at noticing a pitcher’s minute variations, but instead how talented your tech team is in relaying information to your batters – by flashing a light in center field, for example, to signal a fastball; or banging on a trash can with a baseball bat to alert that a changeup is on the way.  It stops being a game of skill and starts becoming a game of micro-tech.

Now let’s address vacating games and titles.  This is professional baseball.  This is a professional sport.  This is not a college sport where championship titles and victories are vacated and struck from official records due to point-shaving or illegal recruitment or horrifying human abuse violations.  That’s on the NCAA.  That’s their parameters to execute those decisions.  Same thing with the Olympics – medals can be seized and championships vacated due to drug violations or other forms of blatant cheating.

And honestly, the only other professional sport I know of where championships have been vacated has been the Tour de France, where those who were caught doping had their titles stripped. And at the rate their champions were testing positive for PED’s, I almost expected the winner of the next Tour de France to be 12-year-old Eddie Scanlon on a 5-speed Schwinn with a banana seat, wire basket and handlebar streamers.

In other words, I’ve heard this argument before – “Well, if so-and-so used steroids and they won the batting title, shouldn’t it go to the next eligible person, who hit .338 while testing clean?”  No.  In baseball, the records stand, but so too do the reasons why they stand.  Yeah, Barry Bonds has the home run record, but those steroids he took will keep him from the Hall of Fame.

“But Pete Rose didn’t cheat to win,” the pundits cry.  “He just gambled on games.  And there’s no indication he bet on his own games.”

Gambling on professional sports – while you’re playing in those professional sports – is taboo.  Sure, Pete Rose bet on certain games, but let’s not forget he was a manager at that time.  He knew who was injured and who was having a good streak and who was going to ride the pines, by the virtue of the scouting reports he might have received for upcoming contests his team might have played against those other squads.  The man had insider information. His involvement meant that he had the inside track on who might win and who might not.  And on occasions when he DID bet on his team to win – did he have knowledge enough to bet on them to win, and not bet on them when he knew that his starting third baseman was nursing an injury that nobody else knew about?

And nobody ever took Pete Rose’s hits away from him.  He still has the MLB record of 4,256 hits, and none of those hits were ever rescinded.  In fact, the only attempt that has ever been made to take Pete Rose’s “Hit King” title away was by claiming that Ichiro Suzuki’s combined Japanese and MLB professional hit totals surpassed Rose’s totals (4,367). Nobody questioned Ichiro’s hit totals, even if all his Japanese home runs were in ballparks that were barely bigger than a doctor’s waiting room.

So the Astros’ World Series championship stands.  It will stand as long as records are written and baseball stories are told.  But in those stories, now we have the tale of how the Astros used technology and chicanery to not only steal their opponents’ signs, but to place a cloud over the sport as well.

Forget Hurricane Harvey. 

The Astros got decimated by Hurricane Manfredi.



  1. Just some extra info on Pete Rose, he did bet on his own games, as both a player and a manager. He admitted to it in his autobiography, and Outside the Lines found notebook entries as well. The last line of defense for him is that he never bet against the Reds, and considering that’s the 3rd time his story has changed, I’m not super inclined to believe him.

    Vacating wins is a bad idea, for sure. At the same time, I’m VERY surprised none of this stuff has resulted in lifetime bans. I think that’s where the Pete Rose parallel makes sense. I’m not saying go full Black Sox, but these penalties are a slap on the wrist, and none of them are enough to deter someone from doing it again. That’s my beef.

  2. Raplh Wiley hinted strongly that Eric Davis thought Rose bet against the Reds. I trust their observations over Rose and his defenders any day.

    1994 also had the M’s coming hard late at a very weak AL West and I think could have made the playoffs that season.

    I also think there is more to the firings of Luhnow and Hinch in Houston than this incident. MLB is gutting payroll to the point that they are about to toss away over a century of history and destroy the minor leagues. When it comes to the business of baseball (or any other sport) I listen to Bill Veck. 50 years later he is still the only one to spill the beans and I don’t think much has really changed.

  3. Title striping happens all the time in track and field. But if you’re looking for team sports Juventus semi-recently had a title vacated from them and they were relegated as further punishment.

    Further, striping a title is the only punishment that the owners are actually going to care about. A monetary fine is meaningless, punishing the executives doesn’t matter to the owner, and any team in the sport would trade a couple of draft picks for a title. All that matters to the owner is that he gets to call himself a champion and wear a ring, so that has to be what gets taken away.

    And as a completely unbiased fan, I propose we give it to the Rockies or Tigers.

  4. Like some of the others said, I honestly wouldn’t mind lifetime bans for the management folks who do this sort of shit.

    And something I don’t get, and never *have* since I was a kid & Pete got canned & banned–is why so many folks act like he’s NOT ending up in the hall *At.All.Evvvvvaaaaaaar!!!*

    The man WILL be in the hall. But the ban agreement was a “Lifetime ban,” aka “while he’s alive to see it happen.”

    I know it’s frustrating for him & sucks ALL to hell for him & his family. But he WILL eventually be listed there–he was one of the greats, and HE AGREED TO ACCEPT THE BAN himself.

    There is nothing in “lifetime” that says he can’t and won’t be a first-ballot inductee to The Hall as soon as he passes away. But the deal he agreed to (whether he *meant* it or not!) was that he wouldn’t ever live to see his plaque there.

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