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Baseball’s integrity absorbs a black eye

While their deaths left voids in my life and the lives of others, I’m at peace knowing that “baseball men” such as Ray Bryant, Page Futrell, Glenn “Stumpy” Johnson and George Parker aren’t here to witness the sins of today’s version of America’s Pastime.

Unless you’ve been under a rock over the past few weeks and missed it, the Major League version of the game that so many of us love has absorbed a huge black eye. This current scandal rivals that of Chicago White Sox players of 1919 who allegedly lost the World Series on purpose that year for financial gain, and the Pete Rose saga of the 1980’s where ‘Charlie Hustle” was banned for life from the sport after being accused of betting on games where he was a player and later a manager.

This time around, the Houston Astros organization stands accused of using electronic surveillance from a camera in centerfield of their ballpark to steal signs from an opposing catcher. Those signs were quickly decoded and a message was sent to the Houston dugout. There, a player would bang a bat on a trash can, a signal to their batter at the plate to tip them off as to what pitch was coming. All of this had to be done fairly quickly and, believe it or not, it was very effective….the Astros won the 2017 World Series title

MLB’s investigation of Houston began after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who played for Oakland in 2019, told The Athletic (a subscription-based online sports website) about the team’s scheme to steal signs.

The ax fell fairly quickly following MLB’s probe as both Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were each given one-year suspensions by the league. They were then fired by Houston owner Jim Crane.

But the fallout didn’t end there.

Last week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the bench coach in 2017 for the Astros, suddenly departed Boston after guiding them to a World Series title in 2018. Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Also last week, former Astros player Carlos Beltran became the third manager to lose his job as he and the front office of the New York Mets decided the part ways.

And, by the way, MLB also levied a $5 million fine on the Astros and ordered the team to forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The sport of American-style baseball has been around for a long time, reportedly founded in 1846 by Abner Doubleday with the first set of rules penned by Alexander Cartwright.

Nothing major has changed about the game or those rules….contests are still nine innings of regulation play; basepaths are 90 feet apart; the distance between pitching rubber and homeplate is 60 feet, six inches; the ball (white with red stitching) remains three inches in diameter; and there are three outs per half-inning.

The four men I mentioned at the outset were the ones who taught me the most about baseball. Ray Bryant was my father…and a darn good baseball player to boot (he was offered a try-out with the St. Louis Cardinals upon returning home from World War II). Page Futrell and Stumpy Johnson also “knew their way around a baseball diamond” as former players. Both coached me when I was young….as did George Parker (along with his sons Elwood and Edgar) back when I played Little League and Pony League in Woodland.

All of those men taught me and others how to respect the game and play it with integrity. Sure, the overall purpose of the baseball (or any other sport for that matter) is to win. But do you push the envelope past the point of the game’s integrity in order to achieve victory? I wasn’t taught that way.

The recent allegations swirling around the Houston Astros are bad for the game as well as sending the wrong message to the next generation of players.

My 6-year-old grandson is showing an interest in baseball. I’ll do my best to pass along my love of the game – one richly rooted in the integrity of the sport I learned from the “baseball men” – to him.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.  

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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