Over the last week or so the Houston Astros have been making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic, and reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, that his former employer had been stealing signs via a centerfield camera. From centerfield, the feed is transmitted to a nearby monitor in the dugout where the coaching staff can determine what the next pitch will be.
Astros using cameras to steal signs, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/rncm6qzXxw
— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) November 12, 2019
“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers said in the story. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”
From there, two different methods have been reported as to how the message was relayed to the batter. The first one, which has Twitter users digging through old game clips, is a distinct banging from the dugout. This banging, whether it be from hitting a trash can, a wall, or anything else, meant an offspeed pitch. No banging indicated a fastball.
The other method, for which it is more difficult to find video evidence, relied on an earpiece worn by the bullpen catcher. He would get signs relayed to him from the dugout where he would then either put his hands up on the fence to indicate fastball, while arms down meant an offspeed pitch was on the way.
According to @Carson_Smith39 and now confirmed by my source, the Astros had someone watching a live feed and then relaying the pitch calls via ear piece to the bullpen catcher. Hands up on fence for FB and hands down for offspeed.
— Trevor Plouffe (@trevorplouffe) November 14, 2019
Jomboy on Twitter has been all over this. He has a number of videos where he has been able to point out a distinct bang ahead of an offspeed pitch, whereas that same noise is absent on any fastballs thrown. He’s been mentioned on a number of sports television shows for his work and has even looked into the Yankees’ concerns over a whistle sound that was used for the same effect. He has since stopped that area of research as there are too many whistles from a variety of people at baseball games.
But that’s the thing. This isn’t the first time the Astros have been linked to cheating like this. The centerfield camera and dugout banging stem from the 2017 season where the Astros went on to beat the Dodgers in the World Series in seven games.
The Yankees were concerned about a distinct whistle ahead of pitches, but nothing from that allegation has caught any true traction. The Washington Nationals were warned of the Astros’ tactics ahead of this year’s World Series. They were on their toes for anything, from flashing lights and whistles to bangs and signs from the train conductor beyond Minute Maid Park’s outfield.
A member of the team’s operations staff was removed from the 2018 series with the Indians and Red Sox for pointing a phone toward the other team’s dugout, which the general manager claimed was to make sure the other side wasn’t cheating.
“I have heard what you all have heard, which is allegations,” Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow said, as reported by Passan. “This isn’t the first one I heard, and it’s not the first one you all have heard. Like I said, I think the best course of action is not to speculate right now. We are going to look into it with cooperation of the MLB and we will find out what there is.”
So what’s the big deal? Stealing signs has been a part of the game forever. While this is true, using technology to do so is a whole other realm.
Players on second base have been and are within the rules to decipher signs from the catcher and relay their findings to their teammates. Using a camera to do so and relay that message to the batter at the plate is a detriment to the integrity of the sport.
Passan also reported that MLB has begun an investigation into the matter, including a look into Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Red Sox manager Alex Cora and new Mets manager Carlos Beltrán for their alleged participation. Hinch was the manager of the 2017 championship team while Cora was the bench coach and Beltrán was still a player.
If all this is true, even with the MLB’s newest rules for on-field camera regulations in place, big consequences must be in order. Rob Manfred’s largest punishment as league commissioner came in 2017 coincidentally when he fined the Cardinals $2 million and took their first two draft picks after they were found to have stolen scouting information from the Astros’ computer database. St. Louis’ scouting director at the time, Chris Correa, was banned for life from baseball and is currently sitting behind bars.
I don’t know if this situation calls for jail time, but Manfred has to do something. If he allows the Astros to walk away with a minor slap on the wrist, he will set a precedent for the rest of the league. It’ll make the Astros’ actions look tolerable. If he lets the Astros off easy and comes down harder on the next organization, what would that say about him and his relationship to the Astros? Was he in on it the whole time? Does he not care about the integrity of the sport he’s supposed to oversee?
I have a feeling a large team fine is in place along with multiple draft picks stripped from the organization. Maybe more, I’m not sure. I’m not here to hand out punishments, just to call for action to keep the playing field even for all teams.
As long as the evidence is there and is true to what has been said, large ramifications are in order. I mean, a team doesn’t improve a home strikeout rate by nearly 32% from one year to the next for no reason.