Major League Baseball has already spoken to over 60 people in its investigation of the Houston Astros’ alleged sign-stealing scheme using a camera, a video monitor and a trash can. (Yes, I know. That sounds as ridiculous as it actually was.) According to Andy Martino at SNY, here’s how the Astros justified what they were doing:
Believing that other teams used technology to decode signs, a group of Houston Astros asked the organization for access to a live feed from a centerfield camera in 2017.
They did not install a new camera for sign-stealing purposes, and the players and coaches involved did not even know which camera the feed was coming from. They wanted a monitor closer to the dugout, because their video room was too far away. They considered their actions to be in line with industry standards.
So, basically, “everyone’s doing it, why shouldn’t we?”
Except if “everyone’s doing it” was true in 2017 when this allegedly began, why did this happen?
This graph is MLB strikeout rate %. Explain these stats. The small blue dot lower left is the Astros. The rest is every other team. Seems odd pic.twitter.com/sksNztu414— anthony des (@roachpony) November 19, 2019
The Astros’ K rate is almost literally off the chart. And they went from ranking 28th in MLB in K rate in 2016 to first in 2017. So maybe different players accounted for this? Probably not. Houston added Josh Reddick, Brian McCann and an aging Carlos Beltran to their team in that offseason. Those additions don’t really scream out “reduced K rate” to me, and certainly not a K rate reduced by that much in one offseason.
Here’s how the scheme allegedly worked, per Andy Martino’s article:
Sources say the camera in question was league-approved and already in place. One source suggested it could have been a scouting camera, which would have been its league-approved purpose. That is more likely than a camera from the TV feed, which would have required the broadcast crew to participate in the scheme.
As far as MLB is concerned, any use of electronics to facilitate sign stealing is illegal. Even Astros witnesses are conceding to investigators that such actions took place, because the feed was aired on a monitor behind the dugout. At this point, the question appears to be not if the Astros broke the rule, but how and to what degree they did it.
Case closed, it would appear, and I’ll again refer you to the great work done by Jimmy O’Brien, better known as Jomboy, in putting together this video of the banging heard loud and clear multiple times on broadcasts:
Astros using cameras to steal signs, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/rncm6qzXxw— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) November 12, 2019
In Martino’s article, he writes that “harsh punishment” for Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch might occur. Beyond that, I’d think significant fines (in nine figures, at least) and loss of draft picks, among other things, would have to happen in order to make teams think twice about doing something like this.
Again, let me be clear: Sign-stealing by players or coaches on the field is a time-honored tradition in baseball. If you’re good at it, it can help your team. But when you add technology, it’s forbidden. In the words of a big-league player:
Sign stealing is part of baseball. It’s gamesmanship. A runner picking up signs from 2nd base or looking for how a pitcher might be tipping his pitches based on how he comes set is fair game. If you can do it using your eye balls it’s ok. If you’re using technology it’s cheating.— Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle (@whatwouldDOOdo) November 15, 2019
Seems pretty clear that the Astros were cheating. Commissioner Rob Manfred, in one of the rare recent occasions when he’s done something positive for baseball, said he hopes this investigation could be wrapped up by January. I concur with this. Hopefully that means punishment could be handed down before spring training begins.
I’ll leave you with more of Martino’s article, noting the atmosphere between the Yankees and Astros during the 2019 ALCS regarding suspicions the Yankees had regarding Houston cheating:
Those suspicions boiled over during Game 1 of the ALCS, when manager Aaron Boone asked home plate umpire Bill Welke about the whistling sounds coming from the Houston dugout, according to sources.
As SNY reported last month, Yankees third base coach Phil Nevin told Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, “tell your f-cking hitting coach I’m going to kick his f-cking ass.”
The reason for that comment, which is previously unreported, underscores the tension caused by the Astros allegations: The hitting coach, Alex Cintron, had just stuck his middle finger in the air and pointed it at Boone from across the field.
Strong punishment for the Astros can’t come soon enough, to help ensure that this kind of cheating is forever banished from baseball.