MLB icon Hank Aaron turned 86 this week, but he's still sharp as a tack and as engaged in the sport as ever.
Aaron, a 25-time MLB All-Star, admitted that he doesn't think that the league did a good enough job reprimanding players involved in the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal.
"No, I don't," Aaron told Craig Melvin of The Today Show when asked if the punishment fit the crime. "I think whoever did that should be out of baseball for the rest of their lives."
Aaron was also asked if sign-stealing was prevalent during his career, which spanned from 1954 to 1976.
"I was surprised [by the scandal]," Aaron said. "They did [steal signs during my career] - they didn't steal them that way."
Commissioner Rob Manfred's determined in January that the Astros illegally used video and banging on dugout trash cans to help batters to know what pitch they were about to see during the 2017 season. The Astros won their first World Series title that season.
As part of his ruling, Manfred suspended then-Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the entirety of the 2020 season. Astros' owner Jim Crane fired both men on the same day. The Astros also were forced to relinquish their first and second-round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts. Additionally, the organization was fined $5 million, which as noted in the report is the "highest allowable fine under the Major League Constitution."
Alex Cora, who was the Astros' bench coach in 2017, was named in the report as having been key in orchestrating the sign stealing. After the Astros won the World Series in 2017, he was hired to be the next Boston Red Sox manager. In Cora's first season managing the Red Sox, the team won a franchise record 108 regular season games and the 10th World Series title in team history. Despite this, the Red Sox elected to fire Cora in January after Manfred's report was released.
Though the report suggests that Carlos Beltran was far from the only player that benefitted from the sign stealing, he's the only player directly mentioned. He retired after the 2017 season and had been hired to take over as the next manager of the New York Mets. Instead, the Mets fired Beltran before he ever managed a game.
No active players - whether they are still employed by the Astros or not - have been punished. Jose Altuve has suggested that the Astros will reach the World Series for a third time in four years in 2020. Alex Bregman repeated a line multiple times about how both MLB and the Astros made their decisions, without directly addressing the report and how the Astros appear to have benefitted from the illegal sign stealing. Dallas Keuchel, now a member of the Chicago White Sox, apologized for the scandal, but beyond increased run support, it's unclear how he personally benefitted from the cheating as a pitcher.
Where this may all catch up with the key members of the Astros is when they become eligible for the Hall of Fame. Beltran, a nine-time All-Star, may no longer be likely to be voted in. Even if Altuve continues to trend towards being one of the most accomplished second basemen in baseball history, this scandal is going to be a major part of his legacy. It will be interesting to see how this affects Justin Verlander, if at all. Based on his career accolades, Verlander is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. He, of course, didn't benefit directly from the scandal (at least in terms of his individual performance). It's hard, though, to imagine that he wasn't aware that this was taking place.
Aaron, who hit 755 career home runs, was baseball's Home Run King from April of 1974 until August of 2007, when Barry Bonds broke his record. Bonds is widely believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs for at least a portion of his storied career. Aaron has previously said that he wouldn't be opposed to players connected to performance-enhancing drugs being in the Hall of Fame, but that he believes there should be an asterisk on the plaques of any players connected to performance-enhancing drugs.
It is worth noting that Aaron has admitted using amphetamines once in his 23-season career. There isn't any reference to this on his Hall of Fame plaque.
How history will view the Astros, Bonds and Aaron remains to be seen. There's lots of nuance to be had in these discussions, but that's often lost in today's discourse.