Review: 'Cheated' details an shameful chapter in baseball

Just as Major League Baseball seemed to have emerged from the steroid scandal, revelations of the Houston Astros’ electronic cheating scheme in 2017 and 2018 further sullied baseball’s image

“Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and the Colorful History of Sign Stealing,” by Andy Martino (Doubleday)

Just as Major League Baseball seemed to have emerged from the steroid scandal, revelations of the Houston Astros’ electronic cheating scheme in 2017 and 2018 further sullied baseball’s image.

“Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and the Colorful History of Sign Stealing” is a revealing, detailed and ultimately sad account of yet another ethical failure in baseball.

Author Andy Martino writes with a novelist’s touch, ratcheting up the tension as he proceeds. And while he doesn’t say so directly, Major League Baseball leadership emerges as less than bold and forceful in dealing with the Astros, Red Sox and other baseball cheaters, in part perhaps because of a culture of “everybody’s doing it” and baseball players’ code of dispensing their own justice through pitchers’ nailing offending hitters with a well-aimed fastball.

From baseball’s origins, teams have studied pitchers, looking for nuances in their motions that perhaps signal the pitch they are about to release. The Houston Astros took that legitimate intelligence gathering to a new level, using cameras to look at the signals the catcher was giving to the pitcher and then relaying them to their hitters. Delivery of the last link to the hitter was caveman primitive — bangs on a trash can in the dugout.

Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is a game of intel and strategy.

If a hitter knows what pitch is coming — fastball, curveball, changeup — he can position himself for that particular pitch. The pitcher is trying to fool the hitter; the hitter is trying to outsmart the pitcher.

As anger over revelations of the Astros, Red Sox and other teams’ cheating was gathering during spring training in 2019, COVID-19 pushed aside the baseball season. So with time to think, did baseball resolve to clean itself up?

Apparently not.

On May 26, the chief umpire for the St. Louis-Chicago game noticed a dark splotch on the hat of the Cardinal’s reliever as he took the mound; the umpire directed the pitcher to change his hat. That prompted Cardinal’s manager Mike Shildt to storm from the dugout in protest; he was promptly ejected.

Later, Shildt acknowledged that pitchers’ use of sunscreen and other illegal substances to doctor the ball to produce more movement is “baseball’s dirty little secret.”

Baseball’s next scandal presents a familiar excuse — everyone is doing it.