Over the past few weeks, you may have heard something about the Houston Astros baseball organization in a negative light. You may have heard the words “cheaters” and “disgrace to the game” a few teams referring to the Astros. Well to be quite honest, all of these accusations may unfortunately be true.
These accusations were really brought to the forefront Jan. 13, and nothing good has happened since. The Astros were accused of electronically stealing signs during the 2017 regular and postseason, and even into the 2018 season. When the cheating was first reported to the MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred, swift suspensions were dealt to the Astros. Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for one year, the team lost their first and second round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, and they were fined an MLB record $5 million. Almost immediately after these punishments were handed out, both Hinch and Luhnow were fired by the Astros organization. Boston Red Sox manager, Alex Cora, was fired by the Red Sox a day later for his involvement with the cheating when with the Astros club in 2017, and newly appointed New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran also resigned because he was actually on the team during their World Series run.
This may not even be the end of the already tough but fair punishments. As time goes on, commissioner Manfred expects that more information will come out about the specifics of how they cheated, and maybe the Astros will eventually come clean, which they still haven’t.
Sign stealing has been apart of baseball for a long time, probably since teams starting giving signs. It’s a tricky art, but teams usually do a good job of figuring out what hand signals relate to what the team will do. A catcher gives signs to his pitcher to indicate what pitch he wants and what location he wants the pitch. To indicate where the catcher wants the pitch he will tap either side of the inside of his legs. It’s impossible to steal these signs because the catcher is doing all of this in between his legs where only the pitcher and the middle infielders can see it. This is until a runner gets to second base. The runner on second can see the signs the catcher is giving, so then the catcher has to change his signs. If he doesn’t, then the runner can figure out what pitch is coming, then relay his own sign back to the hitter.
All of this is intertwined in every baseball game all season. The regular season is basically a 162-game chess match between the opposing managers. This is why sign-stealing becomes a thing. It’s a way to get an advantage on the other team without them finding out. Major League Baseball indirectly allows this to happen because they know it will always be apart of the game. Also, if you are able to figure out the other teams’ signs, hats off to you. You should be able to use this to your advantage if you’ve done the work to figure it out. It’s very similar to how football and basketball teams watch film to gain an advantage over their opponent. However, the way the Astros did it is what is causing all the commotion.
It has been reported by various sources that the Astros used technology to steal signs. This is against MLB rules. Using technology in-game to try and steal signs is a huge form of cheating, and has made a lot of baseball fans upset. The reason that regular sign-stealing is so interesting is that sometimes teams get it wrong. Coaches and players are always changing up their signs throughout the game, so it’s not a guarantee that the sign you think you’re stealing is actually that. But with technology, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you know exactly what the other team is doing.
The way the Astros figured out how to do this is rather impressive. They would set up a hidden camera in center field that would be playing at real time all game. Then, team personnel would watch the feed of the camera through another TV in a hallway between the clubhouse and the dugout so no outsiders could see it. As they picked up the signs, the would relay it to the hitter by banging on a trash can. In order to decode these signs they would use unauthorized electronics, which would also relay the stolen signs to the runner on second base, who would relay it back to the hitter. With the technology, there was no way for the other team to find out this was happening to them. The players involved, however, have been denying any claims against it, but the evidence is staggering. Pretty much every single player in the Astros lineup hit over .100 points higher at home, which is an astounding number. Let’s take Jose Altuve for example. Altuve hit .143 on the road, which is terrible for the MVP-caliber player that he is. At home, he hit .472, which means he pretty much got a hit every other time he was up. That’s a completely ridiculous split, and should be enough evidence in itself to prove that the Astros are cheaters. If that’s not enough, just search up “Astros trash can banging” on YouTube (which is hilarious to even think about), and there are clips taken from several games throughout the entire 2017 season where you can actually hear the sound of them hitting the trash cans. Several players have also come forward with their experiences of how they thought the Astros were cheating at the time, and aren’t that shocked that the proof is just now coming about.
There really is no opinion for me to give on this. The Astros cheated, were punished, and should be looked down upon by the entire baseball world. I’m just surprised that we are just now figuring all of this out since the evidence that’s come to light is so obvious. While I was contemplating all of this and thinking about how they were so much better at home than on the road, I thought of an intriguing question. As a pitcher, which would you rather face, a guy who is on steroids, or a guy who knows exactly what pitch you’re going to throw. It really puts this whole scandal in perspective. The steroid scandal was such a big deal that the guys involved with it are still not being voted into the Hall of Fame. I think this scandal should be seen in the same light as that because you can argue that it’s scarier to face a guy who knows what you’re throwing, than just a dude who’s super juiced up. Barry Bonds still had to read the pitch, adjust to the speed, and make contact before he would hit it 430 feet. The Astros players just had to make contact, which is still not easy to do in the big leagues, but knowing what pitch is coming gives you a huge confidence boost at the plate. You no longer have to worry about your timing because you know if a fastball or offspeed pitch is coming. Hopefully this scandal doesn’t get thrown under the rug, and nobody forgets that the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros should have a giant asterisk next to their name.