The Houston Astros cheated by means of stealing opposing teams’ signs with technology, covered it up, got caught, and Major League Baseball dropped the hammer on them. Unfortunately, there’s no punishment or set of circumstances that will make the Astros appropriately suffer or repay those affected by their disgraceful practices: the damage is irreparable.
On January 13, Commissioner Rob Manfred banned Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for the 2020 MLB season due to their roles in the team’s “player-driven” sign-stealing system. Shortly afterwards, team owner Jim Crane fired Luhnow and Hinch, making them outright unemployed.
The Astros were forced to forfeit their first and second-round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Draft, as well as $5 million — which is the maximum amount the sport can penalize a team.
Allegations included the Astros having a camera setup in center field of their home ballpark, Minute Maid Park, which was zoomed in on the visiting team’s catcher’s fingers. This camera was projected onto a screen in the Astros dugout. If the camera detected a catcher indicating that an off-speed pitch was coming, there would occasionally be the banging of a trash can to indicate to a hitter that an off-speed pitch was coming.
Former Astros and current Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers backed up those findings by claiming the Astros were “advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”
There were also reports of the Washington Nationals, who the Astros faced off with in last season’s World Series, being warned by teams to be on the lookout for signs coming from the train track in left field, as well as whistling and flashing lights. Beforehand, the New York Yankees, who the Astros faced off with in the American League Championship Series the week prior, accused the Astros of bizarre whistling, which was deemed as sketchy sign stealing.
In the days that followed Manfred’s statement, the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets “mutually parted ways” with their managers, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, for their roles in the sign-stealing system in their time with the Astros.
Cora and Beltran’s ability to understand the magnitude of their actions and go out of their way to “put the best interests of the team ahead of theirs” is truly heartwarming because when you drag a team’s reputation in the mud you obviously cared about that aspect of your actions.
MLB is not at fault for the punishments they’ve imposed. They fined the Astros a maximum amount, stripped them of high draft picks, and will likely continue punishing those who took part in this scandalous system. Here’s the thing: they can never fully satisfy fans.
I, Robbie Stratakos, proposed a few ideas for what could’ve been done to the Astros had these allegations been proven true — which they were — in a November 16 article. They included banning whoever was involved both big and small excluding players — based on them potentially listening to orders from coaches and executives — a record-setting fine, as well as removing draft picks and technology.
The first likely indirectly takes place for most of those at fault, the second and third happened (although no one cares about the fine), and the way the fourth is handled will be closely monitored. The article also includes some occurrences in recent memory that puzzled baseball fans at the time and could be viewed in a different light both when the article was published and in the present.
If you tenfold the punishments leveled against the Astros, many would still be saying it wasn’t strong enough. Why? You can’t change the past: the Astros won the 2017 World Series.
There’s the argument of how MLB should vacate the Astros’ 2017 championship, meaning that the title would be stripped, and people would be told to act and move forward with the mentality that it never happened. “If you were at a World Series game that year, a game never took place!” Yeah, okay. Next idea?
Implementing a rule or procedure in sports in the wake of an event is like enacting a new law. Some will be happy that action was taken, some will question why it wasn’t done years ago, and some will say it doesn’t change the past so why do anything. Nothing Manfred and MLB do is going to offset the Astros’ disgusting, deceitful actions.
Think about all the people affected by this.
The Yankees have one of the most talented cores in franchise history, and they haven’t once made the World Series with it. In three of their last four playoff appearances, the Yankees were eliminated in the playoffs by the Astros. In all four of those appearances they lost to a team with a manager who engaged in illegal practices at some point in time (Hinch, Cora).
In 2017 the Los Angeles Dodgers were the clear-cut best team in the National League. That year and the ensuing season they won the National League pennant. Both seasons Cora was a coach on the opposing team (Astros, Red Sox). Currently, the Dodgers are a punching bag for postseason shortcomings.
Imagine if the Nationals, a team and a fan base that has endured recurring playoff heartbreak, lost the World Series or, even worse, lost Game 7 to lose the series? They could’ve been cheated out of a championship and lost their best player to free agency, Anthony Rendon, for nothing. The story of the 2019 MLB season isn’t how the Nationals won the World Series: it’s how the Astros have been cheating over the last three seasons.
Perhaps bigger than all that, what about the fans? You know, those people who invest a portion of their lives, money, and well-being to support a team and a sport’s cause sometimes even in the darkest of times.
Over the last two years Yankees fans clamored that the organization had to acquire an ace to win and how them not doing so was inexplicable. Now it turns out they may have had the pieces to win all along. Who’s to say even the greatest of players on the Astros such as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Yuli Gurriel, aren’t as great as we thought?
When you cheat, there’s no such thing as an irrelevant question or what-if scenario.
The Yankee fan couldn’t understand why their team lost four games in Houston and won three games at home in the 2017 ALCS, as well as how Atluve read Aroldis Chapman‘s slider like a book on his walk-off home run in Game 6 of last season’s ALCS. Remember when Hinch laughed off the Yankees accusing them of relaying signs by whistling?
Astros manager AJ Hinch on the allegation that his team was whistling in the dugout to relay signs in Game 1: “It made me laugh. Because it’s ridiculous. Had I known it would take something like that to set off the Yankees, we would’ve practiced that in spring training.”
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 17, 2019
Cringeworthy to read and watch.
The Dodger fan watched Yu Darvish dominate in the 2017 NL playoffs and Clayton Kershaw silence the Astros bats in Game 1 of the World Series. Then the two pitched in Houston and were batting practice.
Every year Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is under fire, and it only feels like a matter of time before he gets the boot because of the Dodgers not finishing off a great regular season with a World Series championship.
In last season’s AL Division Series, the Tampa Bay Rays won Games 3 and 4 to even up the series with the Astros, 2-2. What happened when Tyler Glasnow, one of baseball’s budding star pitchers, took the hill in Houston in Game 5? Five of the Astros’ first six hitters recorded hits no further than three pitches into their at-bat.
The Rays are never guaranteed to return to the playoffs given their low payroll and how they subsequently filter players through their organization. Imagine if they were cheated out of an ALCS date with their bitter division rival, the Yankees?
Altuve hit .472 and posted a 1.541 OPS at home while hitting .143 and posting a .497 OPS on the road in the 2017 playoffs.
You think all those occurrences are mere coincidences?
On the other hand, picture the Astros fan that understands the severity of this issue, isn’t denying what took place, and is trying to find a way to move forward. The 2017 postseason may have been one of the highlights of their life. It included incredible highs, discouraging lows, and epic comebacks. It combined for an unforgettable emotional ride that ended in a World Series championship.
That emotion could be cheering or crying with family members, going to a parade, and getting together with friends. You relive the moments, buy merchandise, and reminisce.
What do you do: cherish what you felt and disregard what happened behind the scenes or burn the past? Depending on how invested you are, it could be one of the hardest decisions of your life.
We’ve seen the videos of garbage-can banging, whistling, devices falling off players, and Altuve telling his teammates not to rip off his jersey after a walk-off home run to send his team to the World Series and soon after running into the team clubhouse.
Did Astros players wear buzzers under their jerseys? Did they wear buzzers outside their jerseys? Is Crane lying about not knowing about the system? Was the entire roster in on the system? Are other teams guilty for similar practices?
There’s so much we’ll never know and questions that will likely never be answered with sincerity. That itself is enough to add credibility questions to MLB, but it’s not like the sport has dealt with credibility issues before. Oh wait, some of the best players in the history of the sport are held out of the Hall of Fame because of the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and there was that whole Black Sox Scandal. Okay, so the sign-stealing stuff is another enormous problem for MLB.
The Astros cheated. No one can eliminate what happened, and the sport will never be the same. We all suffer. Coaches and players lost jobs due to being unable to beat the Astros in the playoffs, and fans went through the heartbreak of their team coming up short in the playoffs. Turns out the Astros manufactured those events. We don’t even know all the details or if there’s more behind the curtain — which is disturbing.
Whenever a young team is loaded around the diamond, some will wonder whether they’re just finding crafty ways to cheat — like the Astros. It will seem too good to be true.
Regardless of whether it produced the desired results, cheating is cheating. There are zero excuses for it. Those who undermine this issue, especially those in the sport, are nearly as bad as those that did it because they’re turning a blind eye to reality. They’re enabling the situation.
Sign stealing has been part of baseball for the longest time. There’s a clear difference between picking up on a player or coach — such as a base coach, coach from the dugout, or catcher — putting downs signs and having an outfield camera projected into a dugout resulting in the banging of a trash can to indicate to a major-league hitter that an off-speed pitch is coming.
They were an exceptional two-strike hitting team. Their plate awareness was off the charts. They were last in the sport in strikeouts in the regular season. It’s almost like they knew what the pitcher was going to throw.
They went to extremes. Get an edge no matter the cost. Take advantage of technology. Deny wrongdoing as long as we can. Be arrogant. Laugh at people. Heck, try to make people feel bad. Operate with no conscious. Do it until we get caught.
The Astros will forever be remembered for this. This doesn’t go away in the next news cycle or the next decade. Their brand is now cheating. It will forever be that way.
The Houston Astros deceived the baseball world and further dented its history. That can’t be undone.