Astros and Red Sox exposed in unexpected sign-stealing scandal

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CMY23 | Flickr

Kyle McKee

With the NFL season officially finished following Super Bowl LIV and the NBA season about to take center-stage, baseball has come out of nowhere, becoming the main topic on every sporting program out there, including some news programs as well. 

All the current media coverage on baseball has been a result of the recent sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox. 

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced in January that Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Jeff Luhnow would be suspended for one year, or the entire 2020 season. However, shortly after the announcement, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow. 

Along with the two suspensions, the Astros were fined $5 million, the maximum amount allowed to fine a club, and the team was stripped of its first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. However, no players were punished by Manfred. 

As for the Red Sox, they fired manager Alex Cora because he was mentioned in the scandal when he was a bench coach for the Astros in 2017. 

In fact, according to James Dator of SB Nation, of the people mentioned in the report, it is Cora who is most directly implicated.

Not only was Cora instrumental in developing the sign-stealing program, but he actively participated and condoned its use. 

Additionally, the New York Mets fired manager Carlos Beltrán, who was named in the scandal as a player for the Astros in 2017. He was recently hired by the Mets back in November, yet had not managed a single game for the club.

This scandal has been given so much coverage because the Astros won the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2017  and came one game short of winning the 2019 World Series, which they lost to the Washington Nationals in seven games. The Red Sox, the other team mentioned in the scandal, won the World Series in 2018, also against the Dodgers. 

The Astros and the Red Sox were seen by many as two of the model franchises in the sport. 

Much is unclear of the Red Sox actions involving sign-stealing., as the investigation into their involvement is still ongoing.  

However, the report about the Astros has come out and there was plenty of sufficient evidence. According to Manfred’s report, in 2017, the Astros’ video replay room used live video feeds mid-game to learn and decode signs used by the catcher. 

The decoded signs were then relayed to a player who would act as a “runner” to relay information to the dugout. 

In addition, Astros players worked together at the start of the season to improve the sign-stealing process, including installing a TV outside the dugout to make the process more efficient. 

Cora is listed as being the only non-player who organized the scheme. What makes this so bad was when the Red Sox were caught stealing signals during the 2017 season, the club was fined.

Following the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the MLB warned teams against stealing signals and emphasized that use of using replay or video rooms to decode signals was strictly prohibited. 

The Astros completely ignored MLB’s warning and decided to relocate their video replay room directly behind their dugout. 

Here, they were able to institute a “banging scheme,” which involved hitting trash cans either manually or with massage guns to relay information. One bang represented an off-speed pitch, while two indicated a fast ball, according to MLB documents.

These findings are significant because in simple terms, the Astros batters knew what pitch was going to be thrown. Knowing what pitch is coming takes away the hardest part about baseball, which is guessing what pitch the pitcher is throwing. 

Many in and around baseball feel that knowing what pitch is coming is the biggest advantage one could have in the game, even more so than steroids as players taking steroids or banned substances still do not know what pitch is coming.

Punishments were given to Hinch and Luhnow because the MLB alleges that neither took appropriate steps to stop the scheme. 

Crane decided to fire Hinch and Luhnow shortly after the suspensions were given because he wanted Houston to make new hires to move on and work with a “clean slate.” 

With everything that has been said in the report, Manfred repeatedly refers to the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal as “player-driven,” yet at the same time, no discipline was given to any Astros players that were involved in the scandal. 

Manfred justified that decision by saying it would have been difficult to punish players, given that virtually all of them had knowledge of or were involved in the operation to use technology to illicitly obtain and relay opposing catchers’ signals. 

With a couple of weeks until the start of Spring Training, the beginning of the baseball season seems more enticing than recent memory can suggest. 

The Astros will have all eyes on them this upcoming season, especially in the beginning of it. Houston will likely receive many, many boos when playing on the road, and deservingly so. 

However, it remains to be seen if any other teams were also caught sign-stealing, and will continue to do so, but for now baseball can wait until spring comes knocking on the door.