It seems that Major League Baseball would prefer to avoid a repeat of the Astros’ sign-stealing debacle, a scandal that only worsened when individual players escaped punishment due to a lack of a punitive framework and an exchange of immunity for information.
There’s a new structure for dealing with such matters, should they arise in the future, according to Evan Drellich of The Athletic (subscription link). MLB and the MLB Players Association have agreed to a series of rules that are designed to foreclose the round of controversy we’ve seen recently from the Astros and other teams.
The key here is that the commissioner’s office now has authority to impose suspensions — without pay and service time — against players and personnel. Punishment can be assessed upon a violation of the broad prohibition of utilizing “Electronic Devices or Visual Enhancement Devices during the game to identify, communicate or relay the opposing club’s signs or pitch information.”
There are some added protections for players. They’ll get union representation while the league investigates. Much as in the context of the domestic violence policy, the league will start fresh in terms of precedent for suspension lengths (at least for players). It’ll all be subject to appeal and final determination by a neutral arbitrator.
The league is also stepping up its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. The video review rooms will be isolated and communications strictly limited; ultimately, cameras will watch over the proceedings. Trained security professionals from a third-party vendor will watch the door to the doors even to the clubhouse; notably, they’ll be given authority to document and even confront any players or personnel that violate rules such as the ban on in-game cellphone access.
For the time being, players will not be able to watch any kind of live or video feed during a game that features an angle of action that would reveal signs. That will ultimately change, but the league needs time to sort out a system for blotting out signs in the feeds its players will be allowed to access.
It’s all a game of whack-a-mole to some extent, but there’s a key backstop now — a clear threat of suspension — that was lacking previously. The new system is a reflection of the inadequacy of the old one. It would be an improvement if it could ferret out and adequately punish cheaters, but the league hopes for more. If this slate of initiatives really works, the likelihood of being exposed and fear of significant punishment will prevent would-be rule-breakers from even trying.