MLB: Tanking and sign-stealing is cheating – why is tanking left untouched?

Tanking is cheating of the same grade that sign-stealing is. Yet, MLB allows the practice to continue with no repercussions. Why is that?

Tanking is a term commonly used to label teams in professional sports who engage in practices that are designed to lose as many games as their franchise can in a given season.

Tanking is not the Black Sox Scandal in which players took money to “throw” games during the 1919 World Series, ensuring big winnings by crooks betting on the games.

Not at all. Tanking is done in broad daylight under the noses of Commissioner Rob Manfred and the suits at MLB.

Tanking, Unlike Sign-Stealing, Is Not Overt

Tanking is not in your face, though, in the same way that money is passed hands in the hotel hallways from mob types to White Sox players.

Instead, tanking is more subtle. It’s not even as overt as the banging on a garbage can, signaling to Houston Astros batters the pitch heading their way.

Tanking also doesn’t need to have the involvement of players to make the scheme work. Instead, it’s totally in the hands of team owners and the extent to which they open or closes their checkbook.

The way tanking works, and there are several teams like Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, and probably others, is tied directly to the MLB June College Draft.

Like all professional sports, baseball says the worse you finish in the standings, the more, and the higher number of draft picks you will have. It’s a way to bring about parity among all teams in the league down the road.

Oh No – Tanking Has Worked

The trouble is that tanking can work if it is ignored. These same Houston Astros engaged in the practice from 2011-2013, losing 100 or more games in each of those seasons.

Carlos Correa, 2018 MLB All-Star shortstop candidate
Carlos Correa, 2018 MLB All-Star shortstop candidate Photo Credit: CBS Sports

The reward? The “take,” so to speak for all the losing – Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer – all critical ingredients to the recipe of core players who later became contributors to two World Series Titles, as well as future All-Star years.

Now, the argument can be made that the tanking employed by Houston had a positive outcome. And that’s true, which puts it in a different category from the kind we see now.

Except When It’s Not Working

Tanking of the kind we are witnessing now is sinister, and it has no purpose, but to insure fans in cities like Baltimore, Detroit, and Kansas City have years and years ahead before anything resembling a competitive team will appear on the field.

Camden Yards – A Mecca Of Baseball (Photo: Flickr)

Of those teams, the Orioles and their fans stand out as the most afflicted. For one thing, the Orioles play in one of the few Meccas of Baseball at Camden Yards.

The first of the ballparks built after the “cookie cutters” of the 1970s in cities like Philadelphia and Cincinnatti, whereas Camden, and “The Warehouse,” a stop in downtown Baltimore of the old B & O Railroad, has a personality all its own.

Eutaw Street fledges to life before home games with the original ribs made a specialty by Boog Powell, who regularly will be happy to make a plate for you.

Fans are refusing to watch the team owner Peter Angelos puts out there as the Baltimore Orioles. And who can blame them?

As recently as 2014, the Orioles averaged 30,000 fans in attendance – not bad for a small market team. Last year? – only 16,000 fans saw fit to make their way to the ballpark.

That’s not to say, as the owners may try to tell us, fans in Baltimore won’t come to see real major league baseball when it’s presented. When the Yankees or Red Sox came to town in 2019, attendance doubled.

MLB vs. The Tanking Cheaters

Now, let’s move on to highlight the powers Commissioner Manfred has versus the ones he doesn’t have.

Astros owner Jim Crane – Untouchable (

The Commissioner has made clear he has the authority and power to fine teams and to suspend their representatives (including three managers and a general manager), whom he has found to have “cheated.”

Curiously, Jim Crane, the principal owner of the Astros, was left untouched and permitted to live life as usual. Regretfully, that is where Commissioner Manfred draws the line.

Hired by the owners, he is well aware of who butters his bread.

It would be refreshing, for example, to learn sometime in the future, that Manfred approached and had a quiet “off the record” conversation with Fred Wilpon, principal owner of the New York Mets.

Dysfunctional Mets Led By The Wilpons (Photo: Twitter)
Dysfunctional Mets Led By The Wilpons (Photo: Twitter)

And that during that conversation, Manfred might have dropped a hint that perhaps it was in the best interests of baseball for him to “part ways” with the Mets.

And further, that he sell the team to someone with the ability and willingness to represent a major league franchise in the City of New York.

It’s only an illusion that scenario is the one that played out, leading to the purchase of the Mets by billionaire Steve Cohen, subject to execution in full of the sale in the next five years.

MLB And A Call To Intervene

We’re concentrating on the Orioles example, but the same principles and courses of action MLB should be considering are warranted in Detroit and Kansas City.

Peter Angelos is 90, and if anyone wishes to indict me for age discrimination, go ahead. His time has passed, and the people of Baltimore are suffering as a result.

In 2020, the Orioles team payroll, according to Spotrac, is $45,508,782. But what’s amazing is that three-quarters of that sum is tied up in just three players – Chris
Davis, Alex Cobb, and Trey Mancini. What’s left for the rest?

Angelos has to his credit the glory days of the Orioles when Cal Ripken Jr. led the team, and fans regularly showed up at the park at the rate of 3 million-plus each season. But that was then – this is now.

Tanking: The Definition Of Cheating Under Review

Cheating, just like lies, comes in many forms and persuasions.

Tanking and the consequence of MLB inaction (Photo: NY Times)

But just because tanking doesn’t attract the attention of fans in the same way as the din of an echoing garbage can, there is no less reason why Manfred can’t be as attuned to thwarting tanking.

As a Yankees fan, beating up on the Orioles like the team did in 2019 when they went 17-2 is not baseball. It’s boredom and disinterest – the enemy of MLB and its continuous efforts to overcome.

In the same way, MLB had a duty to investigate the cheating practices of the Astros when Mike Fiers blew the whistle; they have the same obligation to protect the integrity of baseball by drawing a line on tanking by teams who are also cheating.

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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.