Sports

A Little League Commissioner Explains His Decision to Oust the “Astros” This Season

HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 19:  Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros is congratulated by his teammate Carlos Correa #1 following his ninth inning walk-off two-run home run to defeat the New York Yankees 6-4 in game six of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 19, 2019 in Houston, Texas. The Astros defeated the Yankees 6-4. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Astros: Still allowed in Major League Baseball.
Elsa/Getty Images

The Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal is not going away. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has held multiple press conferences to control the fallout, but his explanations for his actions, like the decision to not formally punish any of the players involved, have only worked to increase frustrations across the league.

Some organizations have taken action, however. Pennsylvania’s District 16/31 Little League has asked teams not to use the Astros’ name and logo this year, and I spoke with district administrator Bob Bertoni over the phone about the decision. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Nick Greene: When did you come to this decision to suspend the Astros team name from your leagues?

Bob Bertoni: We recommended that they not use their name in our 23 leagues. We did that about a week and a half ago, actually. I guess it just hit the wire in the last few days.

So it’s the individual teams’ responsibility to pick the names?

It’s the leagues’. They pick the names of their teams, so we are recommending that they do not use the Astros. Let me tell you why; it’s twofold. One, the Astros have been like the scarlet letter now to baseball. We don’t want our kids putting on that jersey and then opening themselves up to ridicule. We don’t want them to be called cheaters. We don’t want them to face any negative consequences as they play the game. That’s the first thing. Then the second thing, and I’ve said it before: I firmly believe our model is courage, character, and loyalty. Our pledge is that we’ll play fair and strive to win. We don’t want to emulate teams in the major leagues that have chosen not to do that. We’re using it as a teaching moment to say, look kids, there’s got to be consequences to everyone’s actions. We feel that you have to know that cheating should never be a part of any sport. Ever.

What do the kids think about it?

Oh my God, the response has been great. Listen, kids know. In our minor leagues we tell them don’t keep score; they know the score. We tell them a lot of things, but kids know a lot more than you think. They’re more aware of this cheating scandal, I’ll bet you, than adults are. Right now, the Astros shouldn’t be idolized.

What are the Astros, your Astros, going to be called now?

We use a wide array of major league teams.

So it wasn’t a case where teams have already bought the Astros T-shirts and hats.

No. I’ll be honest with you, a lot of our vendors now here, our uniform vendors, won’t even make them. We can’t even get them. We have a company that we use called Athletic Imaging that supplies a lot of our uniforms, and they sent us emails that they will not be carrying the Astros stuff this year. I think everybody’s on board with this.

You’ve handed the Astros a more severe punishment than Major League Baseball. If you were in Rob Manfred’s shoes, what would you have done?

Let me just say this: I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. This is a difficult situation. I know as a district administrator, when I make a decision, my decision affects the thousands of kids that I represent. Rob’s got to make a decision that is going to be historic, because they’ve never faced this, I don’t think. He’s going to be criticized for whatever decision he makes. And although I empathize with him, I surely wouldn’t want to make that decision. Major League Baseball and Little League have always worked hand-in-hand. It’s been a great relationship. A lot of our Little Leaguers play because they idolize the major league players, and they want to be like Derek Jeter.

I don’t think I would want to make that decision, but that’s why I guess he gets the big bucks. I really think this is the kind of decision that you make and then you wait two or three weeks, and then you adjust it because you start to see things clearer after a while. I think he probably needs to revisit his decision and tweak it a little bit and just try and move forward.

If the Astros players had given more heartfelt apologies, would you have rethought your decision?

Oh, absolutely. It’s great that you asked that question. The lack of remorse by the players is just appalling. To say that it had no effect on the game or on them winning the World Series—I’m not buying that. I don’t think that’s a fair statement. I think they should be more apologetic and accept a punishment and move on. They screwed up. They made a mistake; accept the consequences and move on.

If they came out right now and did a full about-face and issued real apologies, would that get the Astros team name back for your leagues?

This isn’t a lifetime ban for the Astros, by no stretch of the imagination. As you know, players come and go from different organizations. Next year, half their roster could be totally different. We’re using this as a teaching tool to teach about sportsmanship. And next year we could use the example that you made a mistake, you paid your punishment, now let’s move on. Let’s give them another chance.

Have you ever had a similar sign-stealing scandal in your little leagues?

No. You know, usually it’s not the kids who do that type of thing. We haven’t faced it, but now they’re aware of it, and we surely don’t want to give them the avenue to do that.

This is totally hypothetical, but there have been other scandals in baseball, especially with performance-enhancing drugs. If there were a team called the A-Rods, would you have banned them?

Heh. Sports figures aren’t role models like they used to be. I don’t even know how to answer that. I guess I would cross that bridge if it ever came to that. We want to represent teams that have character and that play by the rules. That’s what we should always promote.