Baseball is famous for its so-called “unwritten rules” of how players are expected to conduct themselves on the field, which tend to be enforced via beanball. Most fans would include adages like “don’t show up the pitcher” and “act like you’ve been there before” in the list of unwritten rules. The debate over the existence and enforcement of these rules was the most lively debate in baseball fandom until the Astros electronic sign-stealing scandal broke the internet.
While fans were busy combing over game footage for evidence of cheating and debating whether the 2017 World Series title should be rescinded, a new unwritten rule came to light: “omertà.” Omertà is the Mafia code of silence and honor that discourages gang members from informing authorities and outsiders about criminal activity.
When former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers blew the whistle on Houston’s cheating during their 2017 World Series championship season, Astros fans immediately reached for their holster to shoot the messenger. Houston supporters have called Fiers a coward and snitch who had an axe to grind because he was left off the 2017 postseason roster.
The enforcement of baseball omertà has also come from a member of the media with dual loyalties: ESPN Sunday Night Baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza, who also holds a front office role with the New York Mets. Notably, the Mets’ managerial hire Carlos Beltrán was reportedly one of the architects of the Astros’ scheme.
During a Thursday appearance on ESPN talk show “Golic and Wingo”, Mendoza said she was troubled by Fiers’ whistleblowing, saying “…to go public, yeah, it didn’t sit well with me” and that it made her “sad for the sport.”
Mendoza’s commentary garnered immediate blowback from fans outside Houston, leading her to release a statement denying that a conflict of interest shaped her opinions.
— Jessica Mendoza (@jessmendoza) January 16, 2020
This statement makes it clear Mendoza is a believer in baseball omertà. She thinks Fiers should have reported to his team and/or MLB instead of publicizing the Astros’ cheating scheme through a reporter.
However, had Fiers chosen to go to his team, the officials who Fiers would have reported to in 2017, manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, have been implicated in the scandal. Hinch and Luhnow were suspended by MLB for failing to curb the cheating scheme and fostering a toxic workplace culture that condoned misconduct, respectively. They were later fired by the Astros owner after the suspensions were issued.
MLB also did not investigate the matter until it became a major scandal, even though rumors had been swirling for years. Adhering to the code of silence only serves to allow MLB and the media to sweep problems in the sport under the rug.
The Astros electronic sign-stealing scandal has caused an uproar with MLB fans because their cheating changed the course of at least one postseason and undermined confidence that the best team won the championship. Baseball is played in front of fans and should serve their interests above all. Mendoza’s comments show she is out of touch with the audience watching her on television and paying for Mets tickets, and also show that she lacks respect for fans.
The electronic sign-stealing scandal is much more problematic for the sport than PED usage ever has been, because foreknowledge of the pitcher’s plan has a much bigger impact on the game than increased speed and strength. Baseball omertà undermines the integrity of the game and jeopardizes the careers of pitchers whose numbers are negatively impacted by cheating. The existence of the baseball code of silence shows that there is a deep rot in the sport and a major housecleaning effort will be required in order for MLB to restore fans’ trust in the integrity of the game.