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Technology, Once the Astros’ Ally, Helps Do Them In

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This was in the summer of 2012, in Jeff Luhnow’s office at the old Union Station in Houston, adjacent to Minute Maid Park. It was Luhnow’s first year as general manager of the Astros, and while the team on the field was terrible, there was palpable excitement upstairs. Luhnow, still a proud outsider even after working in baseball for several years, had a plan to revolutionize the way teams were built.

Yes, the Astros would tank for a couple of seasons, thus earning the right to spend more on amateur talent than other teams. Yes, they would utilize statistics in a deeper and savvier way than their rivals. But what seemed to invigorate Luhnow most were the possibilities of technology, and the evolving methods for measuring every data point from the field.

“It’s not an issue of just crunching numbers,” he said. “It’s an issue of collecting and evaluating and interpreting and using information across a whole bunch of disciplines that allows you to take the most educated guess you can as to how that player’s going to perform in the future. And if we can do that 5 percent better than the rest of the clubs, that’s a significant edge in our game.”

Luhnow went on to make an analogy: “In blackjack, the house has a half-percent advantage. If you go from a half down to a half up, you’re going to become a millionaire. But the house doesn’t allow that. That’s why the game is designed the way it is.”

On Monday, effectively, the casino security force closed in on Luhnow and Astros Manager A.J. Hinch, grabbed them by the arms and hauled them into a jail cell. Technology helped lift them up, and now it had done them in.

“Neither one of them started this,” Crane said at a news conference in Houston. “But neither one of them did anything about it.”

In that way, Crane cast Luhnow and Hinch as something like Buck Weaver, the Chicago White Sox infielder who was one of the eight players banned for life over a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Weaver took no money, but he knew of the plot in advance and did not stop it.

The Astros scandal is far different — no other crime in baseball history has come close to intentionally losing the World Series — and Luhnow and Hinch will be eligible to work in the sport again starting next fall. But seven words in Manfred’s report detailed the gravest concerns in the commissioner’s office: The Astros’ conduct, Manfred wrote, caused fans, players, executives and reporters to “raise questions about the integrity of games” the Astros played.

The business of baseball depends on the public’s belief in the legitimacy of the competition. That is the implicit deal between the league and fans, and without that trust, everything falls apart.

M.L.B. wisely did not vacate the Astros’ title, which would have been meaningless and intellectually dishonest; the Astros did, in fact, beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. But the report will leave a devastating imprint on the franchise’s only title and everything else Luhnow built. It is fair to view the Astros the same way we view Alex Rodriguez, who repeatedly used performance-enhancing drugs: undeniably talented, but forever tainted.

This saga does not end here, of course. The report cited Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, the bench coach of the 2017 Astros, as a mastermind of the sign-stealing operation. The league has also begun an investigation into allegations of electronic sign-stealing by Cora’s Red Sox in 2018, based on a recent report in The Athletic. It stands to reason that Cora will be severely punished.

Manfred was clearly outraged by the Astros’ brazenness in continuing to steal signs even after he had issued a warning to all teams in September 2017 about using technology to do that. His report cited a “very problematic” culture in the Astros’ baseball operations, and blamed Luhnow and Hinch for failures in leadership.

Yet Crane, the leader of the organization, was spared (besides being docked roughly the salary of a middle reliever). Manfred, likewise, took no responsibility for failing to recognize the temptations in the spread of technology to the dugout. Baseball did not acknowledge that the sign-stealing epidemic almost certainly extended well beyond Houston, and stopped short of establishing clear boundaries that could stop the problem for good.

“We need to have a system where all video systems of the teams must be vetted by an M.L.B. technology supervisor,” the agent Scott Boras said on Monday. “Any live information is not allowed to be advanced to coaches and managers during the course of the game, period — post-performance only. So the only thing you’re going to get during the game is with the naked eye.”

Boras is close to some of the principals in this case. He represented Cora and Beltran during their playing careers, and he is the agent for the Astros’ Jose Altuve, the American League’s most valuable player in 2017. (“Altuve does not use this stuff,” Boras said. “He doesn’t like the signs before he hits; it makes him too aggressive.”)

But his solution makes sense — just eliminate the viewing of in-game video. Teams survived for a century without such technology, and they can learn to live without it.

Monday’s punishments, at least, should serve as a powerful deterrent to organizations tempted to test the boundaries of fair play. Manfred exerted his power and proved to Luhnow that baseball follows the same fundamental rule as blackjack: You can ride a hot hand for a while, but the house always wins in the end.



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Aamuktha Maalyada performance at Shilparamam, HiTech City on Bhogi 2020 – Part 3

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How Should We Punish Sports Cheaters?

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On Monday, after a lengthy investigation, Major League Baseball announced that the Houston Astros had cheated by using technology to steal signs during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season.

Houston general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and manager, A.J. Hinch, were suspended for a year by M.L.B. — and then fired by the Astros’ owner. In addition, the team was stripped of top draft picks and will pay a large fine.

In years to come, this might be the week this age of sports came to be known as the “asterisk era.”

During a decade that brought eye-in-the-sky cameras, rogue chemists, executives with malleable morals and Soviet-era spy craft, those two-fisted disrupters — science and technology — have given cheaters seemingly limitless tools to secure victory on playing fields as diverse as the Olympic Games, Major League Baseball, the N.F.L. and horse racing.

The Houston Astros’ signs-stealing scheme, laid bare in a sober yet searing report from the baseball commissioner on Monday, is the latest embodiment of that old sports saw, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” The 2017 World Series champions mixed high-tech with the low-fi — using a television monitor near the dugout to watch the opposing catcher give his pitching signs, then having teammates bang a trash can to let the batter know what was coming.

For supporters of clean sports, this looked like just one more powerful weapon that athletes, teams and organizations used to win games and skirt the fair-play police, one more instance of the truth about a champion spilling out too late.

In 2014, the Russian Olympic Committee augmented its medal haul by having doping experts collaborate with the country’s intelligence services to switch out urine samples through a hole in the testing laboratory’s wall. On their way to six Super Bowl championships, the New England Patriots have been found guilty of using clandestine video surveillance and of somehow ending up with deflated footballs that allowed their quarterback to get a better grip in foul weather. A horse that staged a historic run to the Triple Crown was found to have chemicals associated with performance-enhancing drugs in his system.

Regulators of Olympic sports acknowledge that they are mostly outgunned on the science and technology fronts. Instead, they rely on law enforcement sources, whistle-blowers and moral outrage, all of which are often in short supply.

“It doesn’t take a philosopher to know that if you cheat to win, you’re not really a winner,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who is perhaps best known for bringing Lance Armstrong’s extensive doping operation to light.

Really?

Tygart and international Olympic officials have taken back gold medals and handed out lifetime bans for cheating. Yet Tygart knows there are athletes who keep trying to become faster and stronger through performance-enhancing drugs. The usual rationalizations: Everyone else is doing it, and winning is worth the risk.

Vacating titles and ending careers are powerful deterrents, but in America’s professional sports leagues, the commissioners have been resistant to mete out such punishments.

M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down yearlong suspensions for Astros Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Both were subsequently fired by the team’s owner, Jim Crane. The Boston Red Sox’ owners, John Henry and Tom Werner, also parted ways with their manager — Alex Cora, who was a bench coach with Houston during its sign-stealing operation and was identified as a major part of the scheme.

In addition, M.L.B. stripped the Astros of their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two years and fined the team $5 million. The Red Sox, who remain under investigation for similar violations, may soon be penalized, too.

Still, Houston retains its title as the 2017 World Series champion. Presumably, Boston will retain its 2018 title. Would stripping those titles make a difference?

“If the goal was to uphold the honesty and sanctity of the game for a broader community, the ultimate penalty is to vacate the wins and the titles,” said Ann Skeet, a sports and leadership ethicist for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at the University of Santa Clara in California. “But there are some built-in conflicts — the commissioner works for the owners. They share revenue. Their fortunes are tied together.”

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.



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Trevor Lawrence disappointed after Clemson's CFP loss to LSU | College Football on ESPN

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Trevor Lawrence speaks with the media following Clemson’s disappointing CFP National Championship loss to Joe Burrow and LSU.
#TrevorLawrence #Clemson #CFPNationalChampionship

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