The Astros, the 2017 World Series winner and contenders in 2018 and 2019’s Series, were investigated by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for the past two months after they were accused of stealing pitching signs. Following what was repeatedly described by Manfred as an extremely thorough investigation, the Astros were found guilty of stealing pitching signs.
As a result of these findings, General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch both received one year suspensions from Major League Baseball and were fired by the Houston franchise. The Astros lost their first and second round draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts, and the franchise was fined $5 million.
The effects of the sign-stealing scheme were felt outside of Houston as well, as former Astros Alex Cora, manager of the Boston Red Sox, and Carlos Beltran, incoming manager of the New York Mets, were fired by their respective teams.
This investigation was prompted by a comment made by former Astros pitcher, Mike Fiers. In November 2019, Fiers told the sports website, The Athletic, that the Astros were using cameras to steal signs from opposing teams to better hit off pitchers during their 2017 World Series-winning season and the 2018 regular season.
Stealing pitching signals goes back more than a century, as baseball players have always tried to read the pitchers’ signals to catchers with their own eyes.
Stealing these signals eliminates the pitcher’s ability to surprise the batter with a fastball, a curveball, a breaking ball or any other pitch. Players have traditionally tried to identify other teams’ pitching patterns, but stealing pitching signs using digital equipment, cameras or binoculars is considered illegal.
Many teams have tried to steal signs and get an advantage on the upcoming pitch, including the 2017 Boston Red Sox who were fined for sign-stealing. At that time, the MLB warned teams against stealing signals and emphasized that use of using replay or video rooms to decode signals was strictly banned.
Houston’s sign-stealing operation was particularly sophisticated, as they went out of their way to circumvent MLB rules.
The Astros’ video replay room used live video feeds mid-game to learn and decode signs used by the catcher. The decoded signs were shared with a player who would act as a “runner” to relay information to the dugout.
The report notes that Alex Cora, who was bench coach for the 2017 Astros before becoming manager of the Red Sox in 2018, called the replay review room to obtain the information and share it with the players. Cora is listed as the only non-player who organized the scheme.
After the Red Sox were caught cheating and before the start of the 2018 season, former New York Yankees manager and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre warned all teams not to use the video replay system or electronic devices to steal pitching signs.
In response, the 2018 Astros relocated their video replay room directly behind their dugout in order to execute another cheating method. Here, they instituted what is now called 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.
The Astros were not the only team implicated in the latest MLB investigation. Manfred disclosed that the Red Sox continued cheating during the 2018 season even after being penalized by the league. Cora, then manager of the Red Sox, was now caught up in the biggest cheating scandal in MLB history, and he turned out to be the biggest player in it. Cora and the Red Sox mutually agreed to part ways before the MLB formally released their punishment.
Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017, was hired as the New York Mets’ manager in November 2019. After the results of the investigation were released, the Mets fired Beltran for his involvement in the scandal. The Mets went on to hire Luis Rojas to take over as their new manager. Rojas was a minor league coach for first baseman Pete Alonso before his breakout rookie season.
This cheating scandal was the most intensely scrutinized scandal to hit baseball with some of the most significant repercussions. The investigation is ongoing. As more information comes out, the MLB will continue to investigate and evaluate any possible malpractice.