April 29, 2020
Red Sox Deal With Consequences of Sign Stealing Scandal
Last week the world of sports rejoiced at the news that, someday soon, Major League Baseball might re-start. But it didn’t take much time for the other side of the argument to surface. From a sports PR perspective, the weeks and months prior to the announcement that MLB Spring Training was canceled, and that the season would be postponed, were dominated by news of the sign stealing scandal. The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox were called out, and several players and coaches were specifically named as willing participants, in what some commentators in the sports media called one of the worst professional sports scandals in decades.
Now, just as fans were getting accustomed to the idea of baseball making a comeback, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the penalties the league is leveling against the Red Sox. Saying that the team’s infractions were less severe than those of the Astros, the penalties he announced were also less severe. Boston lost a second-round pick in the next amateur draft, and former manager Alex Cora was suspended through the 2020 postseason. In addition, Red Sox replace system operator JT Watkins was suspended without pay through this year’s postseason for “violating the prohibition on in-game use of video to revise sign sequences…”
Speaking directly about his decisions, Manfred said: “Unlike the Astros conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’ conduct by its very nature was far more limited in scope and impact…”
Watkins, who came up through the Red Sox system, playing until 2015, initially denied the allegations against him. Manfed disagreed, calling Watkins a “key participant” in the infractions. Watkins has said nothing else since Manfred made his announcement. Personally, Watkins will have some ground to make up to win back his reputation, however, the team as a whole came through fairly unscathed.
One of the biggest questions when the news of how pervasive the sign stealing scandal went came out, was which teams would be tainted by the news. Would the Red Sox see their championship run attached to an asterisk with the label “cheater” associated with it? At present, that doesn’t look like it will be the case, at least for most fans. They understand the relatively limited nature of this infraction, especially compared to what the Astros had been accused of.
However, “less ground to make up” is not “no ground to make up,” and that means the Red Sox will have to answer some questions, win back some doubters, and put up with connections to the cheating scandal for some time yet.