The Houston Astros and Sign Stealing: It’s Beyond Baseball

Allegations have been swirling around for a while that the Houston Astros, arguably the best team in baseball over the past half-decade, have been less than genuine with their in game practices. Accusations of sign stealing have been tossed about by numerous sources, as players and fans alike have shouted wolf at the Houston Baseball Club. Originally scoffed off, Astros Manager A.J. Hinch called the allegations a joke, and even called for specific names of anonymous sources to fess up, he was that confident in his team’s “honest play.” Hinch’s cocky façade fell apart when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told The Atlantic that the Astros used a video camera to record signs from the outfield. More recently, the internet, led by New York Yankees super fan and internet personality Jomboymedia has gone wild searching for other evidence of Astros cheating. Methods like whistling to tip batters off to off speed pitches and an electronic buzzer born on the hand of the batter have been claimed, but none have struck harder than the “bang” created by someone whaling on a trashcan in the dugout tunnel before off-speed pitches. The last three haven’t been proven, but all come with a sort of believability based on evidence that can be found all over Twitter.

So, how can we expect the MLB to react to these allegations against the reigning AL champs? The first place to look is the infamous Spygate. Both included instances of video taping the opposing team’s signals for an unfair advantage. As a result of Spygate, Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500K, the Patriots were fined $250K, and the team forfeited their first round draft selection the following spring. Some believe the Astros punishment could be worse. The difficult part now is that the investigation is still ongoing, so the punishments. It’s simple to expect the MLB to punish the Astros with loss of draft picks and fines, and perhaps some suspensions, because the Astros have threatened the integrity of Major League Baseball. The integrity concern will be a major factor in determining punishment, and will likely drive the commissioner to hand down hasher punishment.

“Our clubs, all 30 of them, recognize that the integrity of the competition on the field is crucial to what we do. … There is wide support across the industry for the idea that when we have a problem in this area, there should be firm, serious disciplinary action,”

MLB Comissioner Rob Manfred on the Astros Allegations.

An article posted on on November 20th sums up the situation perfectly, stating:

“With the Astros, we have obvious cheating with prior precedent for penalties, repeated efforts by baseball to prevent this behavior, and the entire organization, at a minimum, cognizant of potential sign-stealing issues. Ultimately, even if the Astros organization tells the truth about what happened, they are going to be hit hard. If individual employees don’t cooperate, or are found to be lying, they are going to be hit harder. The Astros’ reputation as an organization willing to do anything to win is going to hurt them publicly, but looking solely at the actual evidence will probably be plenty to bring about significant penalties. While some forms of stealing signs are largely accepted as part of baseball, there’s too much in the way of bright-line rules, clear precedent, and brazen disregard for the same to think the Astros’ behavior isn’t going to be easily seen as cheating when the Commissioner’s office conducts their analysis. If the investigation reveals continued illegal efforts to steal signs in 2018 and 2019, harsh penalties are warranted. “

Craig Edwards, fangraphs,com

Future information will be critical to the situation, but regardless, it will be interesting to see what comes of the MLB’s newest scandal.  

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