In November of 2019 writers from The Athletic, Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, wrote an article revealing that the Houston Astros had used technology to steal signs during their run to the 2017 World Series title. This was solidified when Mike Fiers, a former Astro and current Oakland Athletic pitcher, went on record to say that his former team had stolen signs during their title run. The team would pound on a trash can to indicate to their current batter what type of pitch was on its way. Major League Baseball (MLB) did not come down hard enough on the Astros, as players should have been punished harshly for their actions.
The MLB responded by fining the Astros $5 million and the forced forfeit of their 2020 and 2021 first and second round draft picks. On top of that their manager, A.J. Hinch; general manager, Jeff Lunhow, and former assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, were all suspended for a year. In a corresponding move team owner, Jim Crane, fired Hinch and Lunhow.
Basically the issue of sign stealing comes down to the desecration of the game itself. Sign stealing has long been a part of the game. The game-inside-of-a-game that is the interaction between pitcher and catcher has always included confusing any runners who could transmit their signs to the plate. The Astros went over the top in order to gain this information by pinpointing a camera on home plate in order to pass on the signs. This was no longer a game to see who was a better team or even who was better at playing mental games; it instead was an easy game of wait on the off-speed pitch and smack a line drive or drive a fastball into the gap.
David Nilsson, a retired catcher who played over 800 games, discussed how big of an impact knowing the pitch can be for a batter.
“When you’re hitting a baseball, you have to make a calculated guess, that’s how hitting goes…If you think about Shane Warne and he’s going to bowl a flipper for example, if you know he’s going to be bowling a flipper, you have a better chance of dealing with it…setting up their electronics to cheat…you can’t defend it.”
The MLB laid out three reasons, after their investigation, that players were not punished.
- Players were given immunity if they shared what they knew with the MLB.
- The MLB had released a memo in 2017 stating that general managers and managers would be the people punished if there were sign-stealing issues.
- Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner, believed that punishing players would be impractical as assigning blame would be difficult.
Regardless of all these things, the hitters were able to profit in the expense of opposing pitchers and get off scot-free. It is my opinion that for every individual who stepped to the plate for the Astros and a pounding can be heard on the garbage can, there should come a lengthy suspension.
It is also unlikely players can get away with the argument that they were just doing what Lunhow and Hinch instructed of them. On the contrary, each of these players are grown men. They knew exactly what they were doing when they stepped up to the plate and they knew it was wrong.
A very good L.A. Dodgers team lost to the Astros in the series and it is hard to blame many for thinking about what would have happened if the scandal had not taken place. Would the Dodgers have won the series? This is question we will never have answered. However, what is even more aggravating is the Astros team was talented enough that it may have been able to win the World Series without stealing signs with electronics.
Is it really a meaningful win if you cheat to get the results? With the MLB giving the Astros a slap on the wrist, it seems as though it is not that big of a deal. The Astros seemed to think so too and the MLB let the players get away unscathed.