The sad, strange world where Dallas Keuchel, Jessica Mendoza believe it’s worse to expose cheating than to cheat

But former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers did the right thing in going public with the sign-stealing scheme that almost certainly helped Houston win a World Series.

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Cincinnati Reds v Houston Astros

Astros pitcher Mike Fiers (middle) talks with teammates Dallas Keuchel (60) and Collin McHugh (31) during a game in 2016.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

One person’s rat is another person’s hero.

New White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel doesn’t think much of Mike Fiers’ decision to expose the sign-stealing scheme of their former team, the Astros.

I think Fiers did the right thing, and, because he did, baseball will be better for it.

ESPN analyst Jessica Mendoza said there wouldn’t have been a Major League Baseball investigation and massive fallout if Fiers had kept his mouth shut. She wishes he had.

I wish there were more people like Fiers.

It takes guts to be a whistleblower, even an anonymous one. To be one in a high-profile case is to guarantee a tidal wave of abuse. To put your name on your whistle, as Fiers did in a report by The Athletic in November, is honorable. He had to know the baseball community was going to ostracize him, yet he did it anyway.

Any time someone exposes cheating, the games we watch and play ultimately are better for it. You’re not supposed to cheat in sports. You’re certainly not supposed to be allowed to get away with it. That gets lost in the argument that “cheating has been around forever.’’ The goal is to have a fair, clean game, and when that’s not possible, the muck needs to be removed.

But that’s not how it works in the world that Keuchel and Mendoza inhabit.

“It sucks to the extent of the clubhouse rule was broken,” Keuchel said at SoxFest last week. “That’s where I’ll go with that. I don’t have much else to say about Mike.”

Mendoza had a lot more to say about Mike.

“It didn’t sit well with me,’’ she said on an ESPN radio show Jan. 16. “And honestly it made me sad for the sport that that’s how this all got found out. I mean this wasn’t something that MLB naturally investigated or that even other teams complained about because they naturally heard about and then investigations happened. It came from within. It was a player that was a part of it, that benefited from it during the regular season when he was a part of that team. And that, when I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would, right? It’s something that you don’t do.

“I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know – but to go public with it and call them out and start all of this? It’s hard to swallow.”

Hard to swallow? Why should a cheating scandal exposed by a player be hard to swallow for a broadcaster?

I’ve been trying to understand the reasoning behind Mendoza’s disappointment. That the sanctity of the clubhouse is greater than the sanctity of the game? That it would have been better for baseball if the Astros’ scheme had never come to light? Would it follow, then, that she believes the world would be a much better place if the widespread use of steroids in baseball in the 1980s and beyond had stayed a secret?

Fans want to know that what they’re watching is real. That should override any other consideration, including whatever blood oaths teammates take. When one team benefits from stealing signs, which the Astros almost certainly did on the way to a World Series title in 2017, the game loses some of its genuineness.

It’s a massive advantage to know what pitches are coming. The Astros used a centerfield camera connected to a dugout monitor to read opposing catchers’ signs and relay them to hitters in real time. It’s why MLB fined Houston $5 million and stripped the franchise of four high draft picks. It’s why the Astros fired their general manager and manager. It’s why two other managers ended up losing their jobs.

The severity of the sanctions shows how damaging the scheme was to the integrity of the game.

But to the people who are bothered by Fiers’ revelations, it’s a bigger sin to give up clubhouse secrets than it is to cheat. This tells me there must be a lot of other secrets being kept by major-league baseball players. We know that pro athletes are ultra-competitive. That’s exactly why they need to be watched closely. Give them an inch, and they’ll take a pile of performance-enhancing drugs. Or they’ll cork a bat (hello, Sammy!). Or they’ll plug in a monitor to steal signs.

Mendoza is a walking, talking conflict of interest. Besides her duties as an ESPN analyst, she’s an adviser to the Mets. That would be like me signing a contract to fix the woeful Bulls while keeping my job with the Sun-Times. (I can be at the Advocate Center by 9 a.m. Tuesday.) Her comments show that she thinks of herself more as a member of the baseball fraternity than as a member of ESPN. Her loyalties seem to lie with baseball players, who, trust me, don’t consider her part of the club.

I’ll leave it to shrewder students of human nature to explain her way of thinking. And I’ll leave it to Keuchel, a heck of a pitcher, to explain why it’s worse to expose a cheating scandal than it is to cheat.

But know this: When Fiers was introduced to the crowd at Oakland’s fan fest Saturday, he received the loudest cheers of any A’s player. There’s a reason for that. Fair is fair.

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