Dom Ferro | Staff Columnist
Feb. 20, 2020
On Nov. 12, 2019 Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic dropped a bombshell story detailing the Houston Astros illegal use of stealing signs of opposing teams.
In their home games the 2017 World Series champion Astros used a real-time camera system to relay information to their batters.
Mike Fiers of the Oakland Athletics and formerly of the Astros, told all, explaining how the organization used a video camera in center field to film the opposing catcher, and more specifically his signs to the pitcher. A member of the organization would watch the live feed in a hallway leading towards the dugout and signal to their batter what pitch was coming by banging on a trash can if it was an off-speed pitch.
Sign stealing in baseball is not cheating in fact, every team in the MLB does it. While there are no written rules that make sign-stealing illegal in baseball, it violates the game’s unwritten code of ethics and frowned upon if someone is caught doing it.
However, a team will never get punished for sign-stealing if and when a baserunner at second base tips off the hitter to the pitch type or location.
The problem that arises with the Astros is the use of cameras and other technology to steal signs. It was also rumored that certain players, including former AL MVP Jose Altuve, were wearing buzzers inside of their jerseys, which were used similarly to the trash can.
Altuve quickly denied those allegations in a press conference on Feb. 13. The Astros press conference came after an investigation by the MLB and commissioner Rob Manfred went public. Their findings resulted in a one year suspension of Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. MLB also fined the Astros $5 million and stripped them of their first and second round draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 MLB drafts.
Immediately after the MLB concluded their investigation the Astros owner Jim Crane fired both Hinch and Luhnow. Hinch admitted to knowing the cheating was going on, and even went as far as to say that he actively discouraged it.
As manager, Hinch had power to put an end to it, and he never did. He, like many others in the organization, knew what he was doing was wrong, but did not have the character to stop the actions.
When no one outside knows what you are doing and your team is benefiting tremendously, no one within the organization raises an eyebrow. The impact of the scandal has been felt the league. In total three MLB managers were fired from the result of the scandal.
Both Carlos Beltrán and Alex Cora were mentioned by the league in their investigation. They felt the effects when they were fired by their teams. Former manager Cora of the Boston Red Sox decided to “mutually part ways,” and Beltrán was also relieved of his duties as manager of the New York Mets being hired less than three months prior.
Professional baseball has a long and complicated history with cheating players and teams. It was even happening over 20 years before the first modern World Series.
The first documented scandal happened in 1877 when several members of the Louisville Grays were discovered to have thrown games in return for money. Every player involved with throwing the game was permanently banned from the MLB. Even with the harsh punishment dealt, there continued to be a serious problem with games being thrown and gamblers influencing outcomes of games.
This changed with one infamous moment in baseball history, which is the Black Sox scandal. Just 16 years after the NL and AL met up for the first time, the “Big Fix” happened. Eight members of the Chicago White Sox, nicknamed the Black Sox, were accused of intentionally losing the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate.
This is the best scandal to happen to the MLB because it sparked a change. It made it clear that this new professional league had to be governed, and led to the appointment of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball.
He was given absolute control over the league to restore its integrity. After 100 years and nine commissioners, we are now waiting on Rob Manfred to once again restore the integrity of this historic league. His lack of outspokenness on this issue is troubling to many fans of the game.
A one-year suspension for a GM and manager of a world championship team that was cheating for an extended period of time is an insanely soft punishment. Of course, replacing both of those positions is not easy, but what about the players that were actively involved with the operation? Do they not get punished?
This is a player-driven scheme that hurt many individuals’ careers, including Aaron Judge, who narrowly lost the MVP race to Altuve in 2017. Or any of the players on teams who were eliminated from the playoffs by the Astros But especially Mike Bolsinger, who on Aug. 4, 2017, gave up four runs, four hits and three walks in one third of an inning as a Blue Jays reliever against the Astros.
After that game Bolsinger was demoted to Triple A and after the season was unsigned by any team. He then spent time playing in Japan, but now he is suing the Astros for unfair business practices, negligence and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations.
It is sad that individuals have to seek justice for unsanctioned actions in the MLB. The league should step up and take a deep look at how not only staff of the team, but also the players were involved in one of the largest scandals in sports.
Players must be held accountable for cheating other players out of a world title. It is not too late for the MLB to deal more punishment, and fans won’t be quick to forget if there is not. Baseball has seen its fair share of cheaters and con-artists but they have never had to deal with such an intricate method like the Astros had to cheat.
No one knows how much further the Astros would have gone but it is clear that it could have been stopped earlier and it never was.
Everyone involved should be properly punished, and Major League Baseball has not done that.