Boys will be boys, in baseball and elsewhere, and grown men will be boys, too. But some of what the Show Me State’s boys and girls seem to be showing don’t seem to be the kind of thing you’d like showing.
If the St. Louis Cardinals’ front office isn’t facing an investigation into whether people therein hacked into the Houston Astros’ internal data networks, Kansas City fans are gleefully stuffing online All-Star ballot boxes in favour of the Royals regardless of whether the players in question deserve to be in the starting lineup.
Who do Missouri baseball people think they are—Chicago political machinists?
But there it was, first thing this morning. The New York Times‘s Michael S. Schmidt revealed the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice want to know whether certain Cardinals officials “broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built . . . Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics, and scouting reports were compromised, officials said.”
Nobody’s saying which Cardinals workers are the Feds’ targets thus far, though everyone seems to think the real target of the Cardinal hacks was Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, formerly the head of the Cardinals’ scouting and player development who rebuilt the Cardinals’ minor league system and drafted some of the key men in the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series winner and 2013 World Series competitor.
Not to mention that between 2005 and 2007, the Times reminds us, Luhnow presided over the drafts of 24 players who became major leaguers by 2011, the most in the Show. In the three years previous, Luhnow drafted such keys to the World Series winner as Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Daniel Descalso, not to mention Colby Rasmus—an outfielder who became disgruntled, frustrated, and frustrating enough that he’d be traded during 2011, a trade that brought back two other significant pieces in the World Series win, relief pitchers Edwin Jackson (from the White Sox) and Mark Rzepczynski (from the Blue Jays).
Luhnow left the Cardinals after that stupefying Series triumph—you do remember the Cardinals coming back from two last-strikes in two innings to stop the Texas Rangers from winning that Series, don’t you?—to take the Astros’ GM job. He also took a few St. Louis people with him while he was at it. Nothing to see there, folks, it happens all the time in the corporate world. Known as a Moneyball disciple, Luhnow slashed the Astros’ payroll, then rebuilt the orgasnisation to where a lot of smart analysts thought the Astros were likely to become competitive by 2016 or 2017.
Except that the Astros staggered one and all this season. At this writing, they’ve got the best record in the American League and rule the Western Division. (You do remember, don’t you, that the Astros were named as the team to have been named later in the deal that made a National League team out of the Milwaukee Brewers?) But until this year the Astros spent the years since their 2005 World Series appearance sinking into one of the game’s less fearsome clubs.
The Cardinals at this writing merely have baseball’s best record, have reached nine National League Championship Series since 2000, and have won twice in three World Series appearances. Baseball government turns out to have tipped government government on the front office cybershenanigans, but commissioner Rob Manfred isn’t likely to spank the Cardinals until the Feds finish their investigation, says the Times.
Cyberspace, of course, enjoys no such limitations. The gags have been flying in abundance. The very idea that one of baseball’s best respected organisations could have been caught with its hands in the cybercookie jar regarding another club’s player development and transactional thinking is as delicious to those who don’t worship at the Cardinal altar as have been the assorted scandals (Spygate, Ballgate) dogging the NFL’s New England Patriots. And they don’t end with photoshopped images of Pats coach Bill Belichick tied to assorted Cardinal personnel.
But so, apparently, is the thought that the Cardinals’ apparent subterfuge target was a long-enough-time baseball sad sack. The Astros haven’t won a World Series since the year they were born. (1962.) They’ve had their share of surrealistic disasters on and off the field. So why hack the Astros, of all people? As Times analyst Victor Mather leads in a sidebar piece, “It might seem a bit like a crooked politician breaking into the office of a rival who is at two percent in the polls, or a master spy choosing to snoop around the embassy of Tonga.”
Once upon a time, Kansas City had something of a reputation for crooked or at least classical machine politics. This season, it’s gaining something of a reputation for crooked or at least machine politics-like All-Star Game voting. And, a parallel reputation for being absolutely unapologetic about it.
At this writing, if the All-Star voting were to end this minute the American League’s starting All-Star lineup would consist of eight Royals plus Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. And it’s a wide open question whether some or most of the Kansas City eight are even having All-Star seasons. Some wonder just how on earth Trout managed to sneak into the top vote-getting considering what appears a deliberate effort out of Kansas City not just to stuff but to jam the ballot box.
The leading vote-getter at second base, for example, is the Royals’ Omar Infante. Who isn’t even within ten miles of being the league’s best second baseman this season. As if to prove that St. Louis isn’t the only Missouri metropolis that can hack an Astro, Infante overtook Houston’s Jose Altuve in the voting. This at a time the smart speculation has the Royals looking for an upgrade at second base.
“There’s nothing wrong,” says Royals manager Ned Yost. “Vote! The votes are the votes. If you don’t like it, go out there and vote. Our fans have gotten out and voted. Does seven starters surprise you? Yeah. But once you sit back and think about it, it’s really not that surprising.”
Well, now. It’s quite true that baseball’s All-Star voting is a) dominated by the online vote, and b) no pun intended, a royal mess. The system just about begs for the kind of thing the Royals’ fans are showing in living colour. And it is probably worth a parallel invesitgation to determine whether the Royals’ fans’ All-Star voting is part and parcel of a concerted effort to jam the formerly loveable team—whose run to the World Series last year captured a country, but whose early season bullyings this year put a big stain on their image—down the All-Star Game’s throat.
The ironies abound. One of them is where this year’s All-Star Game will be played: Cincinnati. The city that tried to stuff its Reds onto the starting lineup of the 1957 All-Star Game.
Eight Reds were voted onto that starting lineup: Ed Bailey (C), Johnny Temple (2B), Roy McMillan (SS), Don Hoak (3B), and outfielders Frank Robinson, Gus Bell, and Wally Post. (Somehow, the Cincinnati stuffers couldn’t stuff Stan Musial off first base. Ironically, Reds first baseman George Crowe was the only Red other than Robinson having a legitimately All-Star season at the time of the vote.)
Then-commissioner Ford Frick yanked Bell and Post in favour of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. (Post was yanked off the team entirely; Bell was at least allowed to remain as a reserve, pinch hitting for Robinson in the ninth.) Fat lot of good the Cincinnati stuffers did: The American League won the Game, 6-5, despite each league scoring three in the ninth. And the fans lost the vote—which was shifted to managers, players, and coaches—until 1970.
There have been whispers of ballot box stuffing over several previous All-Star Games in this century. In 2012, San Francisco fans were thought to be stuffing on behalf of third baseman Pablo Sandoval (now struggling as a Red Sox) when David Wright of the Mets was clearly the best third baseman in the league at the time. Speaking of third base, in 1989 the fans voted Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt to be the National League’s starting third baseman—despite his retirement two months before the Game.
In 2013, it was feared Los Angeles fans would stuff for Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig onto the team at all despite his having been in the Show a measly three weeks. So were Baltimore fans on behalf of Nick Markakis as a starter at a time when Trout, Jose Bautista, and the Orioles’ own Adam Jones were clearly superior. And how often did Yankee fans manage to get Derek Jeter onto All-Star starting lineups he clearly didn’t deserve in his baseball dotage, essentially voting him the equivalent of a couple of gold watches when he wasn’t even close to the league’s best shortstop anymore?
It’s bad enough that a) regular-season interleague play has left the All-Star Game somewhat meaningless except b) as former commissioner Bud Selig’s fool idea to determine who gets the home field advantage in each season’s World Series. (Baseball’s often-wounding flaw: If it isn’t broken, bring in the repairmen.) It’s worse when fan voting threatens year after year to put something less than truly All-Star lineups onto the All-Star field.
And don’t get me started on the rule that every team must have at least one All-Star representative, not to mention the everyone-must-play rule. The 2010 All-Star Game should have buried that one, what with Albert Pujols getting hooked after three innings and seventeen pitching changes all game long.
Maybe it’s time for baseball government to think of rescinding that rule plus giving the starting All-Star lineup vote back to the managers, coaches, and players. Some Kansas City fans now insist they’re trying to prove how flawed the All-Star voting really is. If you believe that, I have a chalet you can buy on the cheap. In Antarctica.