Feb 14, 2020 - Sports

The MLB's problems extend far beyond Houston's cheating scandal

The Astros' second baseman José Altuve during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Astros had three months to craft a thoughtful apology for the team's sign-stealing scandal. Instead, José Altuve and Alex Bregman spoke for a combined 90 seconds — and owner Jim Crane questioned whether sign-stealing even helped his team win games.

The big picture: While baseball grapples with the fallout, don't lose sight of the many other problems Major League Baseball faces as commissioner Rob Manfred enters his sixth season at the helm.

  • Juiced balls: The "juiced" and then "un-juiced" baseball was a central storyline of the 2019 campaign, raising transparency concerns.
  • Angry players: Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer called Manfred "a joke" on Twitter and followed that up with a seven-minute rant about the state of baseball.
  • Unpopular rule changes: In an effort to speed up the game, pitchers will be required to face a minimum of three batters starting this season — a rule change that the MLB Players Association did not support.
  • Minor League cuts: Politicians like Bernie Sanders have been railing against MLB's proposal to slash minor league teams, which will cast a dark shadow over the upcoming season.
  • Labor unrest: Tension between the owners and the MLBPA has been brewing for years and could result in a lockout when the current CBA expires after the 2021 season.
  • Marketing problems: In 2018, only 22% of the American public knew who Mike Trout was. That's not a Mike Trout problem, that's an MLB problem.
  • Drop in attendance: Roughly 68.5 million fans attended MLB games in 2019, which continues a downward trend and represents a whopping 15% decline from a high of 79.5 million in 2007.

The bottom line: This is going to be a pivotal decade for baseball, and it's hard to imagine the 2020s getting off to a worse start.

Go deeper: The Astros' apology tour

Go deeper

How an inconsistent baseball threatens trust in MLB

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal is a huge black eye for Major League Baseball and threatens public trust in the sport, but there is something that poses an even bigger threat to that trust — the baseball itself.

Catch up quick: The "juiced baseball" emerged as a storyline last season, but the inconsistency of MLB's baseballs has been a theme for years.

Go deeperArrowFeb 4, 2020 - Sports

The Astros' apology tour

The Astros' Jose Altuve during a press conference in West Palm Beach. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Houston Astros are very sorry for cheating their way to a World Series win, even as their owner bizarrely flip-flopped on whether their cheating changed any games.

Why it matters: The sign-stealing scandal is among the biggest since the steroid era, spilling over into other clubs and giving MLB some nasty publicity.

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - Sports

Inside the Astros' front office's sign stealing operation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the weekend, a bombshell Wall Street Journal report revealed that the Astros' front office was not only aware of the sign-stealing that was going on but, in fact, created the system in the first place. It even had a name: "Codebreaker."

How it worked: Using an in-game live feed, someone would log the catchers' signs and the type of pitch that was thrown into an Excel spreadsheet. An algorithm would then decipher what each sign meant and that information was communicated to a baserunner, who would relay it to the hitter.

Go deeperArrowFeb 11, 2020 - Sports