Astros’ Sign Stealing Scandal Affecting All of Major League Baseball

Photo+via%3A+Associated+Press%0A

Photo via: Associated Press

Marc Goldstein, Sports Editor

Throughout the entirety of the baseball offseason , there has been one thing that has dominated the headlines: the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal. Major League Baseball opened an investigation after former Astros pitcher and current Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers informed The Athletic that the Astros used cameras and buzzers to steal signs and relay them to hitters, giving their hitters an advantage. To make matters worse, the Astros won the World Series in 2017, a year in which they were allegedly stealing signs. This scandal continues to become increasingly intriguing as it plays out, without a clear ending in sight. Even with baseball, and all professional sports on a break for the time being, the story has continued to be discussed around the sports world. 

Before explaining the scandal itself, it is important to understand the context of it and origins. In 2017, the Houston Astros were an absolute juggernaut, winning over 100 games, steamrolling into the World Series, and ultimately winning it in 7 games. They were a feel good team, led by their MVP, Jose Altuve, standing all of 5’6. The team and Altuve were both revered by the media and fans for their underdog attitude and likability. They remained that way until the news of their alleged scandal, which wasn’t even regarded as a big deal at the time of the news. 

As far as the scandal itself, once the details were leaked, the intricacy of it was also revealed. Through the investigation, the MLB found that the Astros used a camera in centerfield to see the signs the catcher gave to the pitcher. The pitch would then be relayed to the dugout where someone would bang a trashcan indicating what pitch was coming. Upon further investigation, statistics showed considerable splits between home and road performance for Astros hitters. The scandal went from bad to worse from there, with Altuve being revealed as a player who did use this plan to his advantage. As recently as the 2019 ALCS, Altuve hit a walkoff home run that sent the Astros to the World Series off of Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. At first glance, there should be nothing wrong there, but many factors are ignored when taking this very situation into consideration. Firstly, Chapman has a notoriously hard fastball(he owns the hardest offerings ever at 104.9 MPH), and Altuve seemed very ready for a 2-2 slider, something Chapman doesn’t use very often. Then as he was rounding 3rd base, he told his teammates not to rip off his jersey after he crossed home plate. This is seen as very strange, but there were rumors that he was wearing a buzzer that told him what pitch was coming(this was never confirmed by Altuve, but also never denied). 

The MLB gave the Astros a punishment that they thought fitted the crime, but players and media members disagreed. The MLB suspended Astros manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for a year(they were both fired following the ruling), forced them to forfeit their 1st round pick in 2020 and 2021, and also fined them. After the ruling by MLB, there was another tip that Boston Red Sox manager, Alex Cora, was involved in the scandal as Houston’s bench coach in 2017. Additionally, New York Mets manager, Carlos Beltran, was also allegedly involved as a veteran player on the team. Both Cora and Beltran were fired by their clubs without any further punishment by the MLB. 

The ripple effect that stemmed from this was completely unexpected by everyone involved from the Astros to the MLB to the media. Players from opposing teams began to voice their strong opinions about the fact that commissioner Rob Manfred refrained from punishing players. Mike Trout, the consensus best player in the game, even spoke out saying, “I lost respect for those guys…”. For many people, this is not a very big deal, but Trout is a soft spoken, quiet player who while is exceptionally talented, he is not an easy player to market, which leads to another problem for the MLB. Players on the Astros have viciously defended themselves and their integrity, but to no avail. Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa all were present for a press conference in which they “expressed remorse for their actions”. Those exact words are the reason that players became even angrier with them because they never actually apologized. Taking away their championship, similar to that of the 2013 Louisville University men’s basketball team that won the title. Upon that proposal, Manfred said taking away the trophy is meaningless because “it’s just a hunk of metal”. This set the players off, calling out the commissioner and demanding the players union to take action. The MLB Players Union is the most closely knit players union in sports, but the issue here is not unity, it is about loyalty. If the Players Union decided to file a grievance against the Astros and their players, they would be attacking their own members, thus betraying themselves in a sense. If they did nothing, they would be betraying the members who want justice. The Players Union did the easiest thing: nothing, hoping that with time the problem would subside. 

The issue of sign stealing will come back into conversation periodically. When the Astros start winning, which they most likely will do because of their elite roster assembled, the media will assume that they are winning because they are cheating and stealing signs. If the Astros lose, it will be brought up that they were only good because they cheated. The reality of the situation is that no matter what happens, the MLB gets a black eye from the whole situation. The solution: let it gradually go away and once the season starts, allow the media focus to go there. From cheating to job loses to outrage, the story that captured the offseason will continue to write new chapters to the story, without any end in sight.