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Players Respond to Cheating Scandal

Ask the average baseball fan these days about the Houston Astros and, if they’re not in east Texas, expect a less than cordial response. Ask sports media, and many would say the 2017 World Series champions should be stripped of their title, because they effectively broke baseball, and those are the comments that are fit to print.

Others are being more direct and less tactful. Yankees superstar Giancarlo Stanton said if he was cheating like the Astros he “probably would have hit 80-plus home runs.” Stanton, along with his New York teammate Aaron Judge have been very vocal about their belief that the Astros should have their title rescinded, adding that he, like Judge, believes the cheating continued well into the 2019 season.

After an investigation, Major League Baseball concluded that the Astros cheated during both their World Series run as well as the follow up year, where they failed to defend their championship. Stanton told the media: “It was clear-cut, which means (the title) should be taken away. If you cheat, you (shouldn’t) even be in the playoffs…”

However, Houston is firing back through team owner Jim Crane, who held a news conference last week arguing that the sign stealing did not offer his team much of a discernible advantage. Sports media, fans, and other players pushed back, arguing that the results of those playoff series in 2017 show the results of cheating. The Astros beat the Yankees in seven games to win the ALCS, before edging the Dodgers in the Series.

When the cheating scandal was announced, Houston fired suspended manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow. This move indicates an understanding in Houston that MLB fans and others looking on don’t plan to let this go.

After MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who had his own PR issues last week, said he didn’t think Houston cheated last year, Stanton and other players fired back. Stanton said he didn’t think the Astros stopped cheating until they were caught, implying in his opinion that they cheated last year as well.

Stanton added his opinion – one echoed by many fans and sports media – that Astros players should have been punished, “I don’t think the penalties were harsh enough player-wise… At the end of the day, the (lack of punishment) gives more incentive (to cheat) if you’re not going to punish the players.”

Some Astros players, like former Houston pitcher Gerrit Cole, who now plays for Stanton’s Yankees, have said they were unaware that any cheating was happening while they played for Houston. Cole says he understands why some players are speaking out, and that it’s not his place to contradict their opinion: “People handle this the way they want to… I’m not going to tell anybody how to think…”

While many other players feel the same way, fans and media are less inclined to be so circumspect. MLB has a serious PR problem that isn’t going away, and officials don’t seem to have decided yet what to do about it. MLB should take a lesson from the NFL: inaction in the face of a growing PR crisis will not make the problem disappear.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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