Stealing signs in baseball has been going on since the sport was invented. It’s a crappy thing to do but it happens.
It’s an unwritten rule in the game: you don’t do it or you’ll face on-field justice. I know that personally … ask my rib cage when I stole a sign in a game back in 1997. Ate a fastball right in the midsection and when I rubbed off the pain, the opposing catcher was in my face and said the following:”I (expletive) dare you.”
The reference was me charging the pitcher or sticking a boot in the catcher’s sphincter. With my temper, I had that split-second thought but I knew better because I would have done the exact same thing to a batter who stole my signs. A taste of my own medicine, if you will. I got caught and that was my sentence.
But as much as it’s frowned upon, it isn’t illegal so long as you aren’t using any sort of mechanical device to do it. Whelp, the Houston Astros found out the hard way what happens when you do that and Major League Baseball (MLB) dropped the hammer earlier this month.
How did this happen? Here’s how:
Journalists Ken Rosenthal and Evan Dreilich first made things public when they co-authored a story in The Atlantic about how the Astros were engaging in sign-stealing through electronic means. The allegations were made by Mike Fiers, who pitched with the Astros in 2017, the year when this all apparently happened and the year the Astros won the World Series. Fiers said a camera was installed in centre field to get the signs from opposing teams. That feed was then transmitted to someone in the tunnel leading from the dugout to the clubhouse, where a team member would bang on a trash can to indicate to a batter what pitch was coming.
Jimmy O’Brien, better known as Jomboy on YouTube, uploaded a video which seemed to confirm the trash can-banging and I watched it for the first time while writing this. It involved Danny Farquhar, who was pitching for the Chicago White Sox at the time, picking up on it in the seventh pitch of an at-bat. From the start of that at-bat, you can clearly hear banging of a trash can in the background and the batter managing to figure out what to swing at and what to lay off. Holy cheating, Batman.
MLB launched an investigation immediately following The Atlantic’s original story and Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ then-general manager, said the team would co-operate with the investigation while doing its own digging.
The hammer dropped on Jan. 13 when Rob Manfred, MLB’s commissioner, announced that the investigation indeed showed that the Astros did engage in electronic sign-stealing for all of 2017 and parts of 2018 but no evidence of anything untoward when the team won the American League pennant this past season. The trash can scenario was proven and only an idiot could say there’s no proof of that. That’s how they did it and they got caught.
All of this nefarious, James Bond-like spying cost the Astros a $5-million fine, the most that could be levied under MLB’s constitution, and their first and second-round draft pick in 2020 and 2021. Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, the team’s then-managers, were suspended by MLB for the 2020 season for their roles, though both pleaded innocence. Astros owner Jim Crane went further and fired both of them as soon as the results were made public.
That’s a good start but it needs to go further. But before I explain why, please spare me the whole thing about how other teams steal signs or tip pitches. As I said, it happens all the time but what the Astros did was absolutely beyond the pale. They knew what they were doing was wrong and they didn’t think they would get caught. They did and they need to pay the price for it.
Hinch and Luhnow were in on the whole thing. You expect me to believe Hinch wasn’t? Someone’s banging a trash can all game long and he doesn’t go and wonder what in the hell all the banging is about?
The fine and firings are a good start but more needs to be done. The Astros need to be stripped of the 2017 World Series title. They broke the rules all season long and that title is tainted to crap. Players needed to be punished as well. They were in on it as well and Jomboy’s video proved it. How did the players escape punishment? They knew what pitches to take and what to swing on. How else do you explain the trash can?
Are the Astros the only team doing it? Probably not and this has happened before. Recall when the Boston Red Sox used an Apple Watch, ironically enough in 2017, to try and steal signs against the New York Yankees? You know other teams have been doing it. Every team looks for the upper hand and will do whatever it can to get an edge. It’s been happening since the beginning of organized sports and it will continue. There will be another team that will look to go all 007 and steal signs. Whether they get caught is another story.
So let paranoia reign in MLB because that’s what the 2020 season will look like. As for the Astros, they should change their name to something a bit more appropriate:
The Houston Asterisks.