See Something, Say Something? (The Astros)

Mark Fogel Current Affairs, Mark Fogel, Personal Conduct Policy, Sports

I know it’s still Football season, but Baseball has stolen the backpage headlines with an epic cheating scandal. Today, I will spin a cautionary tale of seeing something and saying something for all my HR peeps…

Getting an edge or cutting corners can start out innocently but can eventually lead to crossing the line. And then there is the BRO code, or for those less familiar, “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” analogy of not discussing internal matters with anyone on the outside of the locker room.

For those who may not be aware, the Houston Astro’s fired their President/GM and Team Manager last week, were fined $5 million and have forfeited important future draft picks after the league (MLB) found them guilty of cheating during the 2017 baseball season…And did I mention that’s the same year they won the World Series? OUCH!

But it doesn’t stop there. The bench coach, Alex Cora – who was implicated during this incident in 2017 with the Astros – was hired as the Boston Red Sox manager in 2018 and then won the world series with Boston the same year. He was fired by the Red Sox the day after the findings from 2017 broke.  He is also being investigated separately for cheating at Boston during their 2018 championship season. The Red Sox took the high road and stated:

“Given the findings and the Commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways,”

But we all know it was a term. Collectively? Come on, the HR folks in the peanut gallery know the lingo…couldn’t have scripted it better myself.

 The investigation implicates lots of other folks too. Let’s start with Carlos Beltran, the NY Mets new manager who was just recently hired in November. Beltran was named in the complaint as a major participant in the scandal with the Astros. As I pen this, Carlos is the third managerial casualty from the scandal, being removed from his position only 2 days after Cora in Boston, and three days after the Houston leaders. Carlos was a player for the Astros in 2017, but implicated as a major instigator of the cheating by the Astros. Of course, there are all the players and staff that were active and passive participants. You just can’t make this stuff up…

Can you say HR nightmare!

Sport often imitates life and specifically business. I won’t take up too much space pining on all the details. This just may be the biggest black eye for Baseball since the famous Chicago White Sox scandal a hundred years ago where 8 players conspired to cheat during the World Series. This incident is widely documented in books and even a major motion picture, Eight Men Out, detailing the story.

Other sports have had scandals as well – can you say the New England Patriots and Spy Gate?

College sports have had several point shaving scandals, dating back decades along with a myriad of under the table recruiting payoffs and lots of inappropriate recruiting behavior.

Cheating in sports took a new direction just a couple decades ago with the introduction of steroids, performance enhancing drugs, and blood doping. I personally had to ditch $100 dollars worth of yellow Lance Armstrong Livestrong Nike merchandise after that scandal broke… and I still have a yellow rubber bracelet in my sock draw….out of my solidarity for cancer research and prevention.

It’s a normal day in the office for many reading this. But let’s get back  to today’s discussion about about the Astros and cheating.

Here are some additional facts:

Ownership knew nothing about it – can you say clueless

The GM and  Manager knew it was going on but didn’t stop it – can you say complicit

The bench coach (Alex Cora – the Red Sox current Manager) came up with the concepts and put them into action

The players including Carlos Beltran ( the Mets newly appointed Manager) went along with it and even came up with some enhancements to hide it from league officials

Junior staff of the team were told to participate even though they knew it was wrong – and none of them came forward to say anything

Last but not least, Technology was at the center of the scandal – video equipment, wearable devises, cell phones…you get the picture….and think about your own work tech being used inappropriately!

Now let’s take this and place it in your own organization. A mid-level member of management comes up with a way to beat the competition illegally or at least unethically. Ownership has no idea, Leadership rubber stamps it, the employees all go along with it….It’s hard for me to believe no one inside the organization including HR was unaware of what was going on. Not that HR wields a powerful wand in pro sports organizations, but they do have a say. How did they not get wind of this? In the MLB scenario, we all would like to know if HR at Houston and even eventually Boston didn’t smell something going on.

The penalties to the GM and Manager from Houston are stiff and others implicated may have similar outcomes, but the damage is done. The victories are tarnished, the sport has a black eye. Careers are ruined…Fans spent $10.7 billion on pro baseball tickets at the major league level alone in the US and Canada last season. Over 68 million fans attended games live during that time. So, this is not a small business, especially when you add in the billions in media contracts, merchandise, food/beverage sales  and advertising revenue related to the sport.

How did this happen and how can these things be prevented in the future?

Let’s start with culture. If winning is the most important thing, then rules will always be broken….having a culture that puts performance and integrity ahead of winning will certainly change the dynamics.

Having transparency and open lines of communication in the organization, especially with HR, is a second key to avoiding scenarios like this panning out. Had someone come forward and then HR or a member of senior management reacted this situation, it could have been cut off much earlier.

Of course, having a back channel to give ownership a heads up to bad behavior is a start.  Even an 800 number or some type of anonymous 3rd party hotline.

Winning should not be at all costs. Time for HR to step up in pro sports…set a path to positive culture, transparency, ethics and remove barriers of individuals coming forward when folks are doing BAD things. Ask yourself are you taking the right steps to prevent this from happening? Then do something proactive and show your leadership capabilities.

Out of adversity comes opportunity…sometimes….