The mayor of Beverly Hills, CA is asking MLB to vacate the Houston Astros 2017 title as punishment for their sign-stealing scheme.
Championship flags fly forever, right? Should they still when the team flying them is found guilty of cheating?
Beverly Hills, CA Mayor John Mirisch is arguing that they shouldn’t.
Mirisch has written an open letter to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred arguing that the Houston Astros’ 2017 MLB title should be vacated in the wake of the commissioner’s report on their electronic sign-stealing scheme.
“I think the MLB investigation has shown beyond doubt that the Astros cheated,” Mirisch said in an interview with FanSided. “I simply think it’s wrong to have people keep the fruits, if you will, of a championship that was based on fraud. People walking around with rings and carrying trophies that they really didn’t earn.”
Unlike recent cries from some members of the L.A. City Council, who are calling for the Dodgers to be crowned retroactively, Mirisch doesn’t think anyone should go down in history as the 2017 MLB champions.
“It should be vacated and there should be an asterisk explaining why there’s no championship that year,” Mirisch said.
And that’s not because he doesn’t love the Dodgers. Mirisch named his son after legendary broadcaster Vin Scully and was in the building for Game 7 as the Astros beat the Dodgers. He admits his biases, but he says he would be pursuing the same punishment even if it wasn’t his Dodgers on the losing end.
“Of course, as I wrote, full disclosure I was at Game 7. I watched the Astros celebrate on our home field, and it was a terrible feeling and now it’s even worse knowing that they cheated,” Mirisch said. “I think it’s only natural to expect that those who were impacted by the cheating might be the ones who raise their voices the loudest. But quite frankly I would have taken the same position that any team that is caught cheating winning the World Series, that title should be vacated. …
“I think if you wanted to argue I was being completely opportunistic, I would jump on that bandwagon and say ‘The Dodgers should have won, give it to them,’ and I’m not saying that.”
As an active Little League parent, Mirisch goes back to the mantra of “respect the game” that they teach to players and coaches.
“What the Astros did was disrespecting the game. And the remedy, or lack of remedy, sends a message that you don’t have to respect the game,” Mirisch said. “I quite frankly feel that if you vacate the World Series title, the gaping void that will remain will serve as a reminder what happens when we fail to respect the game.”
Does he actually think anything will happen? No, not really.
“I don’t think it’s something that would be impossible for baseball to do, I just don’t think that they unfortunately have the courage or the moral standing to do it,” Mirisch said. “Maybe that will change but I’m guessing that it won’t.”
For precedent, he points to other scandals and the severity with which different MLB commissioners handled them.
“MLB has in the past – with Pete Rose, with the Black Sox – has taken appropriate actions to deal with cheating and this, to me, is in many cases even a worse scenario,” Mirisch said. “Because the Black Sox cheated to lose a World Series, well here you have people cheating to win a World Series. To me, that’s in many ways a lot worse.”
Mirisch draws a line between MLB’s Play Ball initiative that his city is part of and the need to speak up.
“We’re actively participating in an MLB initiative which is organized with the US Conference of Mayors. I think it’s important for us to at least go on the record and say we just think this is wrong,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong that they’re not going to change it, it would be the right thing if they do.”
While he knows that things likely won’t change, he thinks it’s worth calling out the sport’s gatekeepers.
“I don’t think it’s wrong to expect that what we all consider to be a national institution – it’s the national pastime, it’s something we all care about – that they can and should be in some ways role models,” Mirisch said. “Now I’m not talking about individual players, they may or they may not be, but certainly the people who are entrusted with it.
Because otherwise it’s just cynical, then literally it is only about profits and money and all of that. From my perspective, and maybe it is a little naive, I think baseball represents a lot more than that.”
Watch the mayor’s interview with FanSided above and read Mirisch’s full letter below.
Say it ain’t so, Rob
By John Mirisch
At the US Conference of Mayors in Honolulu last June, I took a break from the various seminars to visit, with my 12-year old son and two USCM staffers, the burial place of Alexander Cartwright. Cartwright, who had moved to Hawai’i in the 1840’s was a member of the original Knickerbockers, who helped develop baseball on the Elysian Fields of Hoboken, NJ, and he is considered to be one of the pioneers of baseball.
We placed a baseball and a cap, both emblazoned with the USCM and MLB’s “Play Ball” initiative logo on the headstone and we paused for a minute to pay our respects and show our gratitude for baseball. Baseball is important to me personally; it’s important to my son and my family; it’s important to my Community; and it’s important to this country as a whole. As cultural critic Gerald Early notes in the Ken Burns documentary, there are three things for which American civilization will be remembered when all is said and done, and one of them is baseball.
At the time, I posted a picture of our honoring Alexander Cartwright’s memory with the very sincere words: I can’t imagine a world without baseball, and I don’t want to live in a world without baseball.
Such is the meaning and importance of our national pastime.
Full disclosure: I was also born a Dodger fan and was witness to the celebrations of the Houston Astros at Dodger Stadium after Game 7 of the 2017 World Series. As it turns out, there probably never should have been a Game 7.
“Play Ball,” which my city has participated in for several years, is MLB and the USCM’s initiative “to encourage participation in all forms of baseball among all ages, with a special focus on youth.”
My own son, Vin, named for legendary Dodger broadcaster Vin Scully, a role model in every sense of the expression, is about to embark upon his 8th season playing in the Beverly Hills Little League. He loves baseball. And he, too, loves the Dodgers, because the love of the game is personal, not just theoretical.
The Beverly Hills Little League teaches all its volunteer coaches to respect the game. It’s almost a mantra. Respect the game.
From my side, I’ve always taught my son to respect, to honor and to love the game. I’ve shared with him stories of my youth, told him about my missing the game so much in Europe that I played on a team called the Vienna Mercies. I taught him the importance of continuity in baseball, that baseball is something passed on from generation to generation, and that one day he will, G-d willing, pass on baseball stories to his own children, both personal and collective.
He knows the story of the Black Sox; he knows that players were banned from baseball for life for conspiring to lose games and to throw a World Series. He knows the story of Pete Rose, who was banished from baseball for life for betting on baseball games.
And now he knows that the Houston Astros dishonored and disrespected the game by cheating. Now he knows that they won a World Series, the most coveted championship in sports, through fraud, and he knows there are players wearing World Series rings they did not earn.
The “Play Ball” initiative attempts to encourage people to play ball, but it must go beyond encouraging people to play; MLB must set an example for all who play ball, especially children. Baseball continues to influence our everyday speech; it continues to help define our concept of fairness, which, sadly, is an undervalued commodity in this day and age. Life may not be fair, but we can try to make it so. Life may not be fair, but baseball can be. It should be.
The 2017 World Series was clearly not played on a level playing field.
As such, it shouldn’t count. It can’t count.
There is really only one equitable remedy: the 2017 championship should be vacated, and the players involved should be suspended.
Former baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti’s comments on the Pete Rose betting scandal are relevant here: “Let no one think it did not hurt baseball. That hurt will pass, however, as the greater glory of the game asserts itself and a resilient institution goes forward. Let it also be clear that no individual is superior to the game.”
Current commissioner Rob Manfred seems to have forgotten these words. He seems to have forgotten the Black Sox scandal, which led to the appointment of baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, and the following lifetime ban from baseball of the players involved in the scandal, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was likely more naïve than venal.
The current sign-stealing scandal was by all accounts “player-driven” and yet there haven’t been and won’t be any sanctions on the players who were responsible. This lack of accountability makes it look like – in stark contrast to Landis and Giamatti – the current commissioner is protecting those most culpable for the illegal sign-stealing.
The Black Sox cheated to lose a World Series; the Astros cheated to win one.
The unmistakable message is simple: it’s ok to cheat if you win. You get to keep your trophies and rings if you win, even if you cheated.
How can any child on any playground ever again say with a straight face: “Cheaters never prosper”?
Because they do. At least in MLB they do. Because in professional baseball, conspiring to lose a World Series or to bet on baseball without influencing the outcome of games are worse sins than cheating to win.
By not vacating the championship and by not disciplining the players responsible for cheating, commissioner Manfred himself is ignoring the very principles behind the “Play Ball” initiative; MLB’s non-remedy of the cheating scandal both disrespects and dishonors the game.
MLB may have forbidden other teams from commenting on the scandal and MLB’s lax penalties; MLB may have muzzled Dodger President (and Beverly Hills resident) Stan Kasten, but it can’t and won’t prevent the rest of us who love the game with every fiber of our being from speaking out in defense of one of our most precious national institutions.
At our next Council meeting at the end of the month, I hope I can get my Council colleagues to sign onto a resolution urging MLB to respect the game and to do the right thing in consideration of all the evidence that has come to light. In the spirit of the “Play Ball” initiative, which aims to teach the magic of baseball at every level, we owe it to our kids and, yes, we also owe it to ourselves and to our communities to try to get MLB to properly address the cheating scandal.
MLB may be more motivated by a love of money than a love of the game, but we need to remind them that they mustn’t allow the game fall into dishonor. As we teach every coach and every player at the Beverly Hills Little League, it’s fairly simple: respect the game. Vacate the ill-gotten World Series title and let the gaping void serve as a reminder of what happens when we fail to do so.
John Mirisch was elected to the Beverly Hills City Council in 2009. He is currently serving his third term as mayor.