Crime and Punishment and the Beaning of the Houston Astros
It’s not a great time to be an Astro. As Houston plays their warmup schedule in Florida, batters are catching hell, home and away. Twitter is flooded with videos of fans booing the team’s every at-bat, shouting at the dugout, demanding that the Astros give back their 2017 World Series* trophy. (Which will never happen.)
But instead of treating 2020 as a penitential walk of atonement, Houston’s players have been defiant. Carlos Correa effectively coined the team’s motto for the season, telling the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger—and by proxy the rest of the league’s player and fans—to “shut the fuck up.”
It is an affront to man and nature, a situation which cries out for remedy. But the codified law of the baseball authorities has failed to act. Despite finding that Houston’s cheating regimen was player-led and player-conceived, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has been both unable and unwilling to do anything to balance the scales of justice. Thanks to the players’ union, his writ runs short in the actual community of the game.
But that need not be the end of the story.
Because in legal history, the jurisdiction of governments and their codified laws rested on, and was circumscribed by, the ius commune, the law of the peoples. Baseball is very much its own land with its own common law and justice. If sign stealing is, as many have pointed out, as old as the game, so too is the punishment for those caught committing the offense: If the runner is picking off signs, the pitcher picks off the batter.
This isn’t mob rule or frontier justice. It’s better understood as baseball’s natural law.
The remedy for the current situation is simple: Houston’s batters should be beaned, over and over. Until they are sorry.
This isn’t a vindictive judgment. It’s actually for their own good, and the good of everyone who lives with the love of the game in their hearts.
In law, penalties come in two kinds. Expiatory (also called vindictive) punishments make the criminal pay for the sake of justice, a price is exacted for what they did. An eye for an eye.
Medicinal penalties aim for reform. Their function is to press home on the offenders the gravity of what they have done until they are moved to remorse and atonement. The idea is not to see them grovel, but to reintegrate them into the community and make society whole again.
Which is what Houston needs. Not fines, or forfeited draft picks, but 85 mph balls up between the numbers until they understand that there is no shutting the fuck up and no moving on until they acknowledge what they did, sue for pardon, and are granted it by baseball at large.
They must be made to see that, while the players’ union may shield them from the governing authority, they are answerable first and always to the community.
It’s strong medicine, but the patient needs it.
So far in Florida, it’s looking possible. At one point seven Houston batters were hit in five games, an astronomical 1.4 HBP per 9 innings.
The initial Vegas line put the over/under on total Astros HBP this season at 83.5.
The market took the under so hard that the line shifted all the way down 81. For perspective: last season the Mets finished with an HBP of 0.59 per 9 innings, which translated to 95 HBPs for the season.
Even taking into account fan fury, player resentment, and the vanishing improbability of any pitcher with a soul signaling an intentional walk to a Houston batter this year, Vegas is betting the 2020 Astros are going to get off easier than the 2019 Mets?
That’s not a hedge, it’s a crisis of faith.
Our institutions are under siege on all sides. Our government, our politics, our press, our churches, our very trust that the big mediating institutions which make communal life possible—let alone just, or pleasurable—has been betrayed over the last few decades with impunity. There are many reasons for the collapse of these institutions. One of them is the absence of accountability.
This evaporation of consequences has become the hallmark of our age, the acid eating away at our culture, the fuel of a burning fire of rage and resentment that threatens the common roof under which we live.
That Vegas line up there? It’s another manifestation of institutional collapse. Because it’s a demonstration that the betting public—the people with skin in the game—expect that the Astros will smug their way through their scandal, one sneering profanity at a time, just like everyone else. It’s a sign that people are betting that the culture of baseball is too weak to defend its natural laws.
But there is reason for hope.
The ballpark is one of our last undivided public squares. It has not fallen prey to the same quasi-political jingoism, posturing, and preening as the open-air circus of the NFL. Baseball fans are broadly united in what they will, and will not, tolerate in the name of the game.
The institution of baseball is resilient. It has survived the Black Sox, the designated hitter, and the no-pitch intentional walk. It even survived the steroid era and exhibited an amazing resiliency, denying Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Roger Clemens admission to Cooperstown.
Houston, as a team, for years, stole wins, pennants, MVPs, and a World Series championship*. As a team they have now set their faces against their fellow players, the fans, and game. They need tough love.
It is for baseball to call them back, in justice and within the game they betrayed, one pitch at a time. Know it can be done. Believe it will be done. Have faith in the game.
Take the over.