Major Baseball League rocked by Sign Stealing Scandal

Major Baseball League rocked by Sign Stealing Scandal

Photo Credits: KIYOMI WATSON / AGGIE

Astros Move Forward while Boston, Los Angeles Wait for Answers

Amid the Major League Baseball’s investigation into the intense sign-stealing scandal, the Houston Astros are working to rebuild their organization while Boston and Los Angeles await further results. 

The MLB investigation into the Houston Astros’ organization has shocked both the professional baseball world and MLB fans alike. The investigation was prompted after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers’ admission of the team’s wrongdoings to The Athletic.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers said, openly speaking out against his former team. 

  Fiers explained that the 2017 Astros, who went on to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, illegally utilized an outfield camera to observe the signs exchanged between the opposing team’s pitcher and catcher. Team employees then monitored these signs s through a screen that was placed near the Astros’ dugout, and then relayed the message to the player at bat to let him know what pitch was coming. Signals were either communicated from the dugout to baserunners and back to the batter, or through loud noises, such as banging on a trashcan.  

Following the investigation, the MLB confirmed that the Astros did, in fact, engage in sign-stealing. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced in January that the Astros will be fined the maximum penalty amount of $5 million, and would also have to give up their first and second round draft picks for 2020 and 2021. On top of that, the MLB issued one-year suspensions to Astros Manager AJ Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. 

Houston Astros Owner Jim Crane responded to these punishments further by firing both Hinch and Luhnow immediately, and expressing his desire to “move forward with a clean slate.” 

Crane’s decision seems fair, especially since many believe that, as manager of the team, the responsibility fell on Hinch to make the call to end the illegal activity. Hinch has apologized for his involvement, stating that he did not endorse sign-stealing, but failed to put an end to it. Luhnow, meanwhile, maintains that he was not aware of any misconduct taking place.

Although Luhnow claims he was not involved, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal provided additional insight that contradicts his statements. The report revealed that in 2016 an Astros intern approached Luhnow with an algorithm-based program known as Codebreaker. 

The program, referred to as “Dark Arts” by team employees, required that someone watch a live feed of the game and then record opposing catchers’ signs in an Excel spreadsheet. The team would then utilize this spreadsheet to create an algorithm that would essentially “break down the correlation between signs and pitches.” It is now suspected that this system is what led to the Astros’ development of their other cheating methods.

Although sign-stealing is not a new concept in baseball, the use of any electronics to do so is considered illegal. It is common for base runners to spot signs from opposing catchers and relay them to their teammates at bat, but the Astros were caught using technology outside of what is common in the normal field of play — the consequences for doing so are much more severe.

Neither Crane nor the Astros players are facing any punishment, as the investigation revealed that Crane was completely unaware of the activities and punishing every single player involved would be far too demanding for the League. 

Although no specific player is being punished, a look into the Astros’ statistics for 2017 reveals some clear discrepancies. For instance, the Astros reduced their strikeout total by 365 between the 2016 and 2017 season — including 242 fewer strikeouts at home where they were utilizing the sign-stealing system. 

After the dismissal of Hinch and Luhnow, attention then fell onto former Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who was the manager for the Boston Red Sox at the time of the investigation, and is now being referred to as the “ringleader” of the entire scheme. The MLB revealed that Cora played a central role in the use of electronics, working with former Astros player Carlos Beltran to arrange the placement of monitors and improve their sign-stealing tactics altogether. 

Cora’s extensive involvement in this situation pushed the MLB to investigate the 2018 Red Sox, who also went on to win the World Series against the Dodgers that season. 

It is possible that the Red Sox’s success in 2018 immediately following Cora’s arrival was a contributing factor in taking this investigation further than just the Houston Astros. However, there is not enough information to indicate that any form of cheating took place in Boston. 

The Red Sox’s possible involvement in this cheating scandal is reminiscent of their use of an Apple Watch to steal signs from the New York Yankees in 2017, which Manfred referenced in his investigation report. Manfred ended this investigation by issuing a notice that any further electronic use in this way would be met with more severe consequences. 

The day after the Astros fired Hinch and Luhnow, Red Sox management and Cora “mutually agreed to part ways,” in a statement released on behalf of the team and Cora. In both the statement and a press conference, the Red Sox seemed adamant about expressing their admiration for Cora and stated several times that it was in fact a mutual decision. It is safe to assume that this “mutual decision” is just a careful way of saying that Cora was fired because of his actions with the Astros. 

Beltran also resigned as the New York Mets’ manager just two months after being hired for the position. He is the only Astros player named in the investigation due to how closely he worked with Cora to set up the cheating systems. With spring training less than a month away, Beltran’s resignation marked the Mets as the third team to lose a manager because of this scandal. 

Despite the difficulties these teams are facing, some players are beginning to speak out, including Houston’s Jose Altuve, who insists, “everything will be fine,” and claims the Astros will make it to the World Series again. 

Meanwhile, Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez believes the MLB will not find any sign of cheating from the 2018 season. He asserted that the Sox were already a good team before Cora, and that they simply “got better.” 

The Red Sox 2018 statistics indicate that they slugged .482 at home, but also maintained a .426 away. Their statistics are not as telling as Houston’s, instead indicating an especially exceptional season offensively, both at home at Fenway Park and on the road.  

In the midst of the scandal, the last team left to look at is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost two World Series’ in a row to a team accused of cheating and to another team that is under investigation. Naturally, Los Angeles fans want more from the MLB, and the L.A. City Council recently voted to take away the World Series titles from both Houston and Boston. 

Manfred was quick to respond to this case, explaining that not only is there no way to tell if the Dodgers would have actually won the championships, but also the Red Sox are still under investigation. Manfred claimed that a title could not be taken away from a team that has not yet been found guilty of anything. 

The Houston Astros are now working to rebuild, and hired former San Francisco Giants player and well-known baseball figure Dusty Baker as their new manager and James Click, the former Rays vice president of baseball operations, as general manager. The Red Sox made the decision to stay in-house when they officially promoted bench coach Ron Roenicke to interim manager on Tuesday. 

Based on Crane’s decisions for his team, it is clear that the Astros are trying to move past this incident with a fresh start. The information regarding Codebreaker, however, indicates that there may still be underlying details that were not originally discovered or reported on by the MLB. The Red Sox, along with many baseball fans, now just have to wait for the release of the investigation results. 

Overall, cheating in professional sports — especially baseball — is something that has been going on for many years and can take many different forms. The MLB’s investigation and subsequent punishments may serve as a temporary deterrent, but will most likely not prevent cheating in the long run. 

Written by: Rain Yekikian — sports@theaggie.org