This Year in Baseball: Finding a Way Through a Cheating Scandal and a Pandemic

If we gather anything from the recent baseball scandal, we cannot afford to miss the distinct language of faith filtering through the moral outcry.

This year in baseball was never going to be normal. After Major League Baseball penalized different parties involved in the Houston Astros cheating scandal, heavy clouds loomed. But COVID-19 has almost made everyone forget about that story. The key word here is almost. Yes, everyone’s mind is on COVID-19, to be sure. But know this: players across Major League Baseball have not forgotten about the cheating scandal.

One inescapable feature of the garbage-bin cheating story is that most if not all of the Major League Baseball players expressed a belief in the economy of sin. A wrong was committed and someone must pay.

To this point, no ball player or coach has gone on record talking about sin. But the ball player interviews conducted during spring training revealed moral convictions bubbling below. Check out some of the statements from the mouths of baseball’s most beloved players.

Here is what the fan-favorite Mike Trout said:

"I don't agree with the punishment. I lost respect for some of those guys."[1]

Note here that Trout, like all of Major League Baseball, is not disputing the wrongdoing by the Astros. Everyone, including the Astros players embroiled in the scandal, believe that the sign-stealing scandal was wrong. What is the bone of contention is the punishment that has been handed out. The guilty players were given immunity.

Trout clearly believes the players are getting off lightly. And he is in very good company. When asked for his thoughts on the scandal, New York Yankees superstar Aaron Judge commented:

“I wasn’t a fan of the punishment. I thought that was weak for a player-driven scheme…It’s tough…even thinking about who it affected. It didn’t only affect us as the Yankees. It affected the fans of the game. [It affected] other guys who lost their jobs because of it.”[2]

In response to certain Astros players stating their formal apology to media, Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs spoke bluntly: “What a disgrace that was. There’s no sincerity, no genuineness…”[3] LA Dodgers star player Cody Bellinger said very plainly, “I thought that [Major League Baseball’s] punishment was weak…I mean, these guys were cheating for three years.”[4]

It is important to note that there is complexity here. But what we cannot miss is that the players across the entire league have been clear on two points: 1) Cheating in the game of baseball is wrong 2) Someone must pay.

There is both the awareness of a wrong being committed and the acknowledgement that there is a cost accrued by that gross misconduct.

Some have argued that the guilty players have already paid the price merely by being shamed by players across Major League Baseball. Though many of us might relish the fact that the guilty culprits are now feeling the shame of others, this should remind us not only of how wrongdoing works itself out in life, but also how it is ultimately paid for, and eventually how forgiveness is achieved. It is almost as though the condition upon which baseball fans will forgive the guilty athletes is if they feel the shame of what they have done. Make no mistake, there is indeed a strangeness and dysfunctional quality in enjoyment of watching others suffer in remorse. Forgiveness has always been costly for the one to whom harm was committed. But perhaps more than other times, we seem far too desirous for the perpetrator to bear the pain of their sin more than see them become free of it.

The Uniqueness of the Christian Faith

As I have studied, written, spoken, and dialogued about the Christian faith in different settings, I cannot help but see a unique beauty in the way that Jesus Christ acknowledges the reality of wrongdoing—we are talking about sin now—and also the power in how he deals with this problem.

By God’s own son coming to earth, living here, teaching, and then dying and coming back to life, we are made aware of just how much the Christian God wants to touch our lives. In revealing himself to us, God chose to send us his son. This in itself tells us that God wanted to get personal with us. The challenges, temptations, and inner workings of our lives not only require a theoretical way out; we need personal help.

Many ask why it was necessary for Jesus Christ to die on a cross. This, in fact, is a difficult concept to explain, but the answer to that question is wrapped up in the cost of sin. Just as baseball players feel that cheating is dreadfully wrong, the history of sin shows the immense price of human wrongdoing writ large. For some in the ancient world, sin was atoned for by sacrificing animals. For some religions, that tradition has not stopped. In the ancient world, it was not merely animals, but children that would be offered to their gods in order to worship and atone for their sins.[5] Still, merely a brief look at the history of sin shows us the havoc it has wreaked.

Christianity’s message of a God who pays the price for sin is utterly unique. Sin costs. Forgiveness costs. If we gather anything from the recent baseball scandal, we cannot afford to miss the distinct language of faith filtering through the moral outcry. A wrong was committed and someone must atone for it. Someone must make this right. Someone must pay the price for the wrong committed.

When we turn our eyes to the Christian faith, we see that these kinds of moral complaints are taken seriously. Sin is taken seriously. The faith demonstrates its acute awareness of the magnitude of sin in Christ’s dying, rising again, and offering us forgiveness.

Another Way Out

The kind of forgiveness we are looking for comes by engaging with the same God who paid for our forgiveness. Are there other options out there? Sure. You can find forgiveness by exhibiting guilt, shame, and myriad other physical or emotional payments. We might not sacrifice animals in order to make peace with God, but many of us still feel the need to carry around the weight of shame and guilt for a length of time in order to somehow achieve forgiveness from God. Depending on the culture and societal norms in which we find ourselves, many of these options are commonly practiced, but it is questionable, at the very least, if those methods will provide the wholeness we are after.

The argument here is that brokenness, forgiveness, and wholeness are realities of the world in which we live. When we do wrong, we are reminded of our frailty. We search out forgiveness. In all of this, we want to believe that healing is possible.

The Astros cheating scandal and their apology reminds us that brokenness is more felt and acknowledged than we might often realize. It also tells us loud and clear that we long for, and in some cases, plead for forgiveness. Christianity tells us that there is a better way than shaming our way out. Yes, there is still a cost to cover the business of sin. But Christ is the one who has paid the price so that we can have that wholeness.

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2020/02/17/mike-trout-rips-astros-cheating-i-lost-respect-some-them/4785899002/

[2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2020/02/18/aaron-judge-yankees-astros-cheating-scandal/4798777002/

[3] https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/cubs/kris-bryant-comes-down-hard-astros-scandal-what-disgrace-was

[4] https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2876320-cody-bellinger-slams-astros-weak-cheating-punishment-they-stole-the-ring

[5] It is worth noting that the Judeo-Christian faith has never required nor has it endorsed child sacrifice.

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