Until today, whispers around the baseball community and complaints filed by several teams had amounted to pretty much nothing. The Astros, despite doing a lot of wrong over the past few seasons, could apparently do no wrong in MLB’s eyes.
‘All teams think all teams are stealing signs,’ is MLB’s constant refrain. And sign-stealing is a tale as old as time in baseball, so teams are right to be paranoid, especially since there are no rules against doing it ‘the old-fashioned way,’ only against using technology to do so.
To paraphrase the great Michael G. Scott, teams are definitely suspicious of one another, but ‘superpicious’ of the Astros; according to The Athletic, the Nationals “employed a sophisticated set of signs against the Astros that they did not use in previous rounds of the postseason.” The result speaks for itself: the Nationals won their first World Series in franchise history. The 2017 Dodgers were not so lucky, and have since voiced their suspicions about the Astros stealing signs against them in the World Series. In August 2018, the Oakland A’s filed a complaint against the Astros. That October, the Cleveland Indians warned the Red Sox that they suspected the Astros of cheating. The Red Sox then discovered a man named Kyle McLaughlin taking pictures near their dugout during the ALCS; the Astros’ rebuttal was that they were trying to guard against having their own signs stolen. Teams have accused the Astros of doing everything from whistling, to clapping, to banging trashcans, in order to relay stolen secrets. But despite numerous complaints by various teams, and the new rules implemented at the start of the 2019 season, the Astros continued virtually unchecked by MLB.
Today, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers substantiated the rumors, saying that the Astros used a camera in the outfield at Minute Maid Park to steal signs during their home games. Fiers, now pitching for the A’s, said that he’d warned teammates on the Tigers in 2018, and now in Oakland, about the Astros’ shenanigans: “I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit.” He went on to say that it was unfair for new pitchers, who’d get “hit around” and then sent back down to the minors, not realizing they’d just become victims of baseball espionage.
“That’s not playing the game the right way.”Mike Fiers, former Astros pitcher
Former White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar also spoke out about pitching against the Astros in Houston, and hearing banging sounds in Houston’s dugout that coincided with him throwing his changeup. After the third time one of his changeups was fouled off in one at-bat, he stepped off the mound and he and his catcher changed to a more sophisticated set of signs. “The banging stopped,” Farquhar said. Footage of Farquhar’s pitching, analyzed by Jimmy of JomBoy Media, is a compelling supporting argument for Farquhar, Fiers, and three other people in Astros organization during the 2017 season who have come forward about the issue.
In a statement issued today, the Astros announced that they would be cooperating in MLB’s investigation.
Stealing signs the old-fashioned way isn’t against the rules. It’s only when a team uses technology, like the Red Sox and their Apple Watches in 2017, or the Astros all the time, apparently, that it’s verboten. And regardless of whether or not the rules against using technology to gain the upper hand against one’s opponent are outdated in today’s technology-driven world, the rules exists, and the Astros broke them. They broke the rules that were in place in 2017, and violated the subsequent, more stringent rules put in place this year.
The Astros have been on the hot seat for much of the last three seasons, first, for the widespread accusations of sign-stealing, and then for their acquisition of closer Roberto Osuna during his suspension for domestic violence during the 2018 season, and subsequent poor decisions surrounding his presence on the team. Last month, amidst postseason celebrations, the Astros were finally forced to fire their analytics-wunderkind assistant GM Brandon Taubman, who had publicly verbally attacked a female reporter who’d been outspoken about domestic violence in the past. The ensuing response by the Astros PR team, a mixture of attempts to lie and discredit various media members, was nothing short of a disgusting disaster. The Astros have been running rampant for too long; it’s time for a reckoning.
The Astros need to be brought down to earth, with a hard and resounding reentry. Losing their championship seems unlikely, though based on the depth of the espionage and the number of players and employees involved, it feels warranted. Hinch, who scoffed at reporters when asked about stealing, should be punished, possibly with a suspension. Houston should pay hefty fines and lose draft picks; if MLB truly doesn’t want teams to be stealing signs with technology, then the punishment for doing so at this level should pack enough of a punch to deter the Astros and any other team from offending in the future.
But at its core, the issue of sign-stealing is just one part of a larger identity crisis; MLB has to decide what it wants baseball to be. If they want to be about the analytics, StatCast, and technology, then get rid of the rule. Having one leg on either side of the fence just means teams will be forever-paranoid and distracted from the game. Using technology to steal signs should be like steroids and juiced balls. Either everyone gets to do it, or no one does. The game needs to be played on a even playing field, literally. The cream will rise to the top.
Quotes: The Athletic, ESPN
Photo: Reinhold Matay – USA TODAY Sports