Sign-stealing accusations and the Houston Astros have gone hand in hand lately, with the storyline taking over the Astros’ run to an eventual World Series loss. At last, we have solid accusations linking them to illegally stealing signs from opposing pitchers.
Stealing signs is a part of baseball. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. If your team has a man on second and that runner can somehow crack the code of a flurry of signs from the catcher, as well as relay them in time, it is well within his right to let the hitter know what pitch is coming. The Houston Astros are not alone in the pursuit of other team’s signs.
Well apparently in 2017, the Houston Astros crossed the line in their pursuit of that competitive advantage.
In an article written by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic, four ex-Astros’ players revealed that they had direct knowledge of a sign-stealing scheme. Reportedly, the Astros were using cameras in the outfield along with audio cues to tip hitters off to what was coming.
Mike Fiers, the only source that agreed to be named, said regarding the scheme, “That’s not playing the game the right way.” More specifically, Fiers stated, “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”
In saying “They were advanced,” Fiers means that the Astros developed an intricate plan to steal signs using technology. Using technology to steal signs is very illegal. Some may recall the Boston Red Sox being disciplined for using Apple Watches in a sign-stealing scheme the same year.
If you still have doubts, take a look at this video of an at-bat from 2017 with significant research done by Jomboy.
Astros using cameras to steal signs, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/rncm6qzXxw
— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) November 12, 2019
However, Fiers can only speak on the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes from 2017. Following that season, the team didn’t offer him a contract. So why is any of this relevant?
Well, fast-forward to the 2019 playoffs. The Astros advanced to the World Series and left behind a series of teams complaining about sign stealing. Pitchers from those teams even went so far as to use sequenced signs with nobody on base.
Pitchers don’t use multiple signs with no one on base. The runner on second can’t steal your signs if he doesn’t exist. The only way to watch signs with nobody on is cameras in the outfield. The exact same thing that sources revealed was the setup in 2017.
The New York Yankees complained about illegal sign stealing in the ALCS. They reported that the Astros whistled to relay pitches. Following those accusations, Astros manager A.J. Hinch took to the media to call the claims a joke.
Here’s #Astros manager A.J. Hinch calling sign-stealing charges during the 2019 ALCS “a joke” and saying if they’d known whistling would throw the #Yankees or any other team off, they would have practiced it in spring training. #2017WorldSeries #MikeFiers pic.twitter.com/T73p9yv7P0
— Matt Marrone (@thebigm) November 12, 2019
Show me a single person in the history of humanity that has a worse poker face. Hinch gave this statement with a smug smirk that seems characteristic of the way the organization reportedly operates. It’s an attitude that screams “you might know we’re doing something wrong, but there’s no way you can prove it.”
Obviously, the league shouldn’t need to prove that the Astros are cheating. The Astros shouldn’t be cheating at all.
The worst part about the scheme is the organization-wide participation. This systematic scheme is not indicative of a few bad apples, like say a performance-enhancing drug pop would be. It’s indicative of an organization that largely believes that the rules of the game are breakable if the end result is a win.
I can’t say for certain that everyone is involved in the actual stealing of the signs. But even the guys who play the game the right way have benefitted from their teammate’s indiscretions.
Additionally, the article uses this instance as an example to call out all of Major League Baseball on these allegations. It’s extremely unlikely that the Astros are the only team trying to steal signs illegally.
It’s possible some teams have been doing it under the radar for years. However, Major League Baseball caught the Houston Astros. Just like the Red Sox, they’ll face discipline and there will be an asterisk when people talk about how great the 2017 Astros were.
Obviously, these claims from 2017 haven’t been proven to exist in 2019. Sure, accusations exist. But Astros fans can easily write off those accusations as the complaining of jealous teams. The fact remains that Mike Fiers exposed the Astros for their 2017 indiscretions. There is a confirmed report of them stealing signs in that year. Thanks to the video wizard Jomboy, a clearly proven example exists.
We’re far away from proving that the Astros are still stealing signs illegally in 2019. All we have is a trail of defeated teams making accusations. Pitchers going above and beyond to protect their signs. And a manager with a smug smile doing a terrible job of pretending those accusations aren’t true.
Instead of creating a team that could dominate an even playing field, the Astros decided to change the field entirely. They gave themselves a decided advantage which resulted in the creation of one of the most powerful offenses of the decade. The extent to which sign stealing is responsible for that production is still unclear.
The only thing we can take away from this is that the Astros cheated. It’s possible they still are cheating. Maybe a league-wide problem exists.
We also know that Alex Bregman deleted his entire Instagram feed after this story took off. Definitely nothing weird about that.