Given the severity of the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, you would think it would be impossible for the aftermath of the investigation to do any more damage to the game of baseball. But the Astros and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred are truly making things worse.

The Astros, players and management, have been unrepentant and come across as only being sorry they got caught. Yes, I know owner Jim Crane fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, but his comments since make it appear that he only did that to clear his own name.

Crane was in rare form the other day at a news conference during the first day of spring training. The owner reiterated he bore no responsibility for the scandal and at one point actually had the audacity to say that the rule breaking ‘didn’t affect the outcome of the game.’ During the same press conference, he denied saying those words.

Then, Crane was asked directly whether he thought stealing signs and knowing what pitches were coming made a difference in results, Crane said, “It could possibly do that; it could possibly not.”

You must be kidding? Does he really believe baseball fans are that stupid? How did this guy become an owner of a professional baseball franchise?

Many made note at the conference that Crane nor any of the Astros players used the word “cheating”.

Like I said earlier, Manford has not done the game any favors either. A commissioner is supposed to lead when a crisis hits the sport. He is supposed to earn his reported $11 million per year.

Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch

Right from the start, Manford and MLB has screwed up this investigation. It started with the blanket immunity it gave players. And it continued with Manfred’s refusal to make a symbolic gesture by taking the 2017 World Series title and trophy away from the Astros.

Some may have argued that stripping Houston of its title would have meant little. In my eyes, they are wrong. It would have a great deal of meaning. Take the trophy away. Force them to remove banners. Remove the Astros’ name from the record book. Most would not have an issue for leaving a blank for the 2017 World Series winner. This happened in 1994 when the World Series was called off after the owners forced the players to strike.

I seem to remember that the NCAA, recently, took away Louisville’s 2013 national title due to cheating.

Manfred claims he thought about taking away the championship then decided it wouldn’t really have any meaning, that it was enough for the public to know what happened. Wow, he really earned his multi-million dollar salary with that observation.

Still, Manfred’s biggest mistake was not punishing any players. The offer of immunity should have been to just a few witnesses. Start with players and then managers no longer with the Astros. Then, go after the ringleaders of the cheating. Tell them that they better tell the truth if they ever want to play in a major league stadium again.

Instead, Manfred took the easy way out. He obviously was hoping this would all blow over.

One last thought on how Manfred blew this one. He made the comment last week that one of the reasons for his decisions was his fear of the players’ union.

Give me a break. Are we really supposed to believe that the players on the other 29 teams would be eager to fight for a team that cheated its way to a World Series championship because they were being punished? The comments from players on other teams I have read over the past week tell me there would not be any support for Astros’ players.

Opposing players are pissed. This is what will happen. If MLB won’t punish Houston players, opposing pitchers will be lining up to dish out justice of their own.

What the Astros did is a disgrace that will stain baseball for years. The actions of the team, the players and the inept commissioner have only made it worse.