It might not be a classic, but it was still an entertaining game. But while college football was crowning its champion, Major League Baseball has confronted its newest scandal. For more than the past decade, cheating meant performance enhancing drugs. Now, it means electronically stealing signs. Players, coaches, and managers knew. No one stopped it, and now there's a price.
In New Orleans, the battle between the LSU Tigers and Clemson Tigers featured two undefeated teams. About 350 miles away in Houston, Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were cleaning out their respective offices. Both were suspended one year by MLB, and subsequently fired by the Astros for stealing and relaying signs electronically during the 2017 post-season. The Astros won the World Series that year, beating the Dodgers in seven games.
At the Superdome, Clemson built a 17-7 lead in the second quarter against LSU, dominating an early field position game and then striking for a couple of touchdowns. Before the half was over, however, LSU would rattle off three straight scores and go into the locker room with a 28-17 lead. During the break, ESPN was revealing the greatest college football players of all time, and the MLB Network was discussing at length why a team as good as the Astros would resort to cheating.
The sign-stealing scheme was both basic and elaborate. Coaches would be on the phone with the replay room, who would get the signs from the telecast, then relay them by text out into the stadium, where someone would bang on a trash can to tip the pitch to the hitter. MLB's investigation concluded that Hinch knew about the scheme, and was even mildly upset about it, but did nothing to stop it. Luhnow reportedly denied any knowledge, but was still held accountable.
On the football field, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who had never lost a college football game, was not sharp, while LSU Q-B and Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow was unstoppable. Clemson held LSU scoreless to open the second half, then countered with a TD of their own. A two-point conversion made it 28-25 LSU, but that was as close as Clemson would get. LSU won it going away 42-25. Burrow threw for 463 yards and five touchdowns.
In addition to the Astros losing their manager and general manager, the team was fined five million dollars, the maximum allowable by current rules. Houston will also forfeit their first and second round draft picks for the next two years. Alex Cora, the current manager of the Boston Red Sox and bench coach of the Astros in 2017, is also facing a heavy penalty, but the punishment hasn't been handed down yet because his current team is also being investigated for similar actions during the 2018 playoffs. Cora is thought to be one of, if not the, mastermind of the sign-stealing operation.
Tonight there's bubbly and brews on Bourbon Street, but there is no joy in Mudville, er, Houston. If you are smart enough to watch coaches or catchers and come up with the signs that way, that's one thing. To do it using technology is different. Hinch is considered in the business to be a great guy. Cora is too. Luhnow, not so much by his peers, but that's what they say. Watching how fans really don't care when former steroid users continue to make millions (Fox and ESPN made a TV star out of Alex Rodriguez for God's sake), it wouldn't be a surprise that Hinch and Cora will manage again.
Congratulations to LSU, and shame on the Astros, and soon the Red Sox. As far we know, the football program in Louisiana is a clean one. In baseball, though, if you want to beat the Dodgers in the World Series, it looks like you have to cheat.
Saban? Really?: No one in college football seems to have more disdain for the media than Alabama head coach Nick Saban, so why not make him a member of the media for a night and make him a guest studio analyst? That's what ESPN did during the national championship telecast this evening. Saban is usually quite rude to the sideline reporters who ask him those quick dumb questions before the game and at halftime, often times to ESPN personnel. This shouldn't be a complete surprise, though. Remember when Bobby Knight did college basketball telecasts?
Payday plus: Dodgers outfielder and National League Most Valuable Player Cody Bellinger set a record for first year arbitration eligible players when he agreed to a one year, 11.1 million dollar contract Friday. He made 605-thousand dollars last year, which equates to a roughly 1735 percent raise. For us workaday schlubs who can't really comprehend that kind of money, that would be equivalent to someone making 50-thousand dollars a year walking out of the boss' office with a new $917,355 annual salary ($76,446/month before taxes). We can only dream, can't we?
Thursday marked the anniversary of my mother's death. In some ways it's gone by quickly (I haven't really tended to her affairs as much as I should), but in other ways it's been really long. I wrote about it last week. I'm just glad that 2019 is over. I miss my mom, but I'm looking forward to happier times—maybe even if that means I have to make them happen.