Would you like to know one reason why the courts are often held in contempt? Federal judge Jed Rakoff has just given you one. He thinks Rickey Henderson gave the Astro Intelligence Agency and the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring legs.
Rakoff has proclaimed himself a longtime baseball fan. He has also dismissed a lawsuit by fantasy baseball players against the Astros, the Red Sox, and baseball government over Astrogate/Soxgate espionage, who argued that the Astros and Red Sox shenanigans tainted the games based on which they played theirs.
Arguing as Rakoff does that the evidence on the fantasy players’ behalf is insufficient to proceed is one thing. They probably had less to go on than does Mike Bolsinger, the Blue Jays reliever who was farmed out never to return after he was destroyed by the Astro Intelligence Agency in August 2017 unaware going in that the deck against him was stacked.
But the judge’s opening statement deserves to become at least as infamous as Neville Chamberlain proclaiming peace in his time: “A sport that celebrates ‘stealing,’ even if only of a base, does not provide the perfect encouragement to scrupulous play.” Right then and there you should feel less bothered that the suit was dismissed than about what Rakoff’s choplogic says about his judgment over graver matters than baseball espionage.
“Nor can it be denied that an overweening desire to win may sometimes lead our heroes to employ forbidden substances on their (spit) balls, their (corked) bats, or even their (steroid-consuming) bodies,” he continues. “But as Frank Sinatra famously said to Grace Kelly (in the 1956 movie musical High Society), ‘There are rules about such things’.”
The Chairman of the Board spoke to the future Princess of Monaco about love and war and what’s fair in both, not whether the Man of Steal was really a shameless criminal for stealing as many bases as Robin Yount drove in runs. (1,406.)
Rakoff’s essential view, as translated by Yahoo! Sports writer Chris Cwik, is this: “Bettors should know teams will do anything to win. He cites spitballs, corked bats and steroids to make his argument. By Rakoff’s logic, the sign-stealing scandal is the risk bettors take when they place money on a sport known for cheating scandals.”
In other words, there’s a presumption of guilt.
Uh, no. We may presume baserunners will try stealing signs or pitchers might try getting away with a little ball alteration, but that’s not the same as assuming (as the Astros claim they did) that teams are opening and operating their own off-field-based, extralegal intelligence agencies.
Suppose Rakoff were alive and on the bench in 1919. Would he have ruled that angry fans and double-crossed bettors should have known going in that game fixing was a troublesome enough norm before Eddie Cicotte and Shoeless Joe Jackson confessed to the grand jury?
Or, suppose the plaintiffs could have known in advance (there’s no sign-stealing in the courts, we think) that Rakoff would mention actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. They could have introduced Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood’s observation that he’d rather face a juicer than a hitter getting signs through espionage, because at least the juicer (assuming he isn’t getting electronically stolen signs) still has to guess and try to hit it.
It might not have helped their case, but it might have kept Rakoff from opening his dismissal with the logic-chopping claim that, essentially, Rickey Henderson justifies Astrogate.