MLB’s coward problem

So, like every other American sports fan, I’ve been observing the whole Houston Astros scandal with shock, bewilderment, amazement.

But my greatest reaction: Incredulousness.

It probably truly kicked in last night, when I saw Mike Piazza on ESPN discussing how this whole sign stealing thing made him “sad.” Then, this money quote: “In my era, it never would have happened.’’



In your era it never would have happened? In your era it never would have happened? In your era it did happen. In major ways. And not only did it happen—you were involved in it. I don’t care how many tests Piazza didn’t fail (in the era of joke testing), his PED usage was A. widely regarded B. widely accepted; and C. widely ignored. I wrote about this in my Roger Clemens bio, “The Rocket That Fell to Earth” …

So, please, spare me every retired Major Leaguer who uttered nary a peep as [fill in the blank with a very high number] of your teammates roided up/PEDed up before your eyes and inside your clubhouses. Spare us the “In my day …” monologue, when your day put cheating on the map. Or, put differently: Phil Hughes, I’m still waiting for your anger over Melky Cabrera.

And while we’re at it—all these current players now jumping on the “Fuck the Astros” train: Can we acknowledge that, were you on the Astros in 2017, you’d have said shit? Hell, look at the Houston roster from that season. You have every genre of player: Vets like Carlos Beltran and Justin Verlander and Brian McCann. Young scrappers like Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa. Journeymen like Josh Reddick and Luke Gregerson. And no one—not a man—said a thing until Mike Fiers waaaay after the fact.

Why? Because (and this comes from someone who has covered sports for 2 1/2 decades) the greatest myth about athletics involves leadership. Truth be told, what sport teaches people is the value of following along. Listen to your coach—and don’t question him. Take orders from the veteran—and don’t question him. Keep your head down. Don’t say anything controversial to the media. You’re always playing for that next contract. Be a team guy. Be an organization guy. Don’t think—just do.

This whole idea of “creating leaders” is myth. That’s why, when athletes retire, they give speeches that usually encompass some regurgitation of the same four of five cliched lessons that can be found on an old Wayne Dyer pamphlet.

That’s also why, when a scandal of this magnitude breaks, everyone only piles on after it’s safe and clear. Notice how, suddenly, there’s this avalanche of outrage from guys like Jerry Blevins and Mike Clevinger; Chris Archer and Danny Valencia. They can bark, because others have barked.

Here’s a suggestion to all these players. Hell, to all of humanity: Ask yourselves what you would have done were you a 2017 Astro.

Ask yourself whether integrity would have inspired you to speak up.

Ask yourself.