‘The Smartest Guys in the Clubhouse’

David Roth, writing at The New Republic:

It is not evidence of anything in particular, let alone anything sinister, that a World Series champion would hit better than a team that finished in third place. Players improve, and lineups change, and both of those things happened here. But it’s no more surprising to learn, given the dramatic shift in the numbers, that it later turned out that the Astros were cheating: videotaping the opposing catchers’ pitch signals and then using a trash can near the team dugout to pound out, semaphore-style, a message to the hitter about the pitch about to arrive. Given the combination of reverence and fear with which the rest of the sport regarded Luhnow and his McKinsey-fied team of weaponized quants — which was unforgivably dickish but undeniably ahead of the curve, already deftly working angles and analyzing data that other teams couldn’t even see yet — the overt oafishness of the Astros’ 2017 cheating scheme came as no small shock.

I haven’t written about the Astros’ cheating scheme — a story that was broken last month by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic — but this piece by Roth is a good place to start. The striking thing is, as Roth so aptly phrases it, the “overt oafishness” of it. There’s a brazenness to it. You could hear their signals on the TV telecasts. We just don’t look for corruption right out in the open. We expect corruption and cheating to be concealed and hidden.

This Astros story is just sports. But it’s hard not to note the obvious parallels to the Trump administration’s corruption. The president literally asked Russia for help hacking his opponent’s email. Right on stage. We joke about having made Jimmy Carter sell his family peanut farm in Georgia but Trump owns a hotel right down the street from the White House.

Saturday, 7 December 2019