By Nick Telesmanic
BU News Service
BOSTON — There is no denying that baseball is a competitive sport. Throughout its lengthy history, there have been so many ways that teams have tried to gain a competitive advantage over other teams, from utilizing foreign substances such as pine tar and performance-enhancing drugs, to utilizing technology like Apple Watches and satellite TV monitors.
However, it was recently discovered that the Houston Astros took advantage-gaining way too far. In a bombshell report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, it was found that the Astros were using cameras in the center field of Minute Maid Park, their home stadium, to steal pitching signs from opposing catchers in the 2017 regular season — and potentially beyond.
This report details that Mike Fiers, former Astros pitcher, pretty much let the secret loose to Rosenthal that the Astros were cheating. In addition, Danny Farquhar, who was a White Sox pitcher and once pitched against the 2017 Astros in Minute Maid Park, shared how he knew something was up with the Astros stealing his catcher’s signs.
When the signs from the pitchers were stolen by the cameras, the pitch that would be coming would be signaled by the banging of a trash can in the Astros dugout — no bangs to signal a fastball — and either one or two bangs to signal off-speed pitches.
Before every pitch in MLB, a catcher will signal either one, two or multiple motions with his fingers to the pitcher to indicate what pitch he should throw. By seeing these signs through the camera and communicating them to the batter in this subtle way, Astros hitters were able to gain an advantage.
This system was visualized perfectly by Jomboy Media, as seen in this tweet showing an at-bat with Farquhar pitching where the Astros banged on a trash can to signal different pitches:
There has not been any action placed against the Astros by Major League Baseball, but this will certainly be a cheating case that will significantly impact the culture surrounding MLB, much more than the Red Sox Apple Watch cheating scandal from 2017.
In this incident, the Red Sox were caught using the watches improperly not long after it happened. The Astros, on the other hand, managed to keep 2017 swept under the carpet for two years.
And in the year where they got away with it, it was technically against MLB rules to do so. The rulebook of 2017 read: “Major League Baseball Regulations … prohibit the use of electronic equipment during games and state that no such equipment ‘may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.’”
It’s hard to think that in a league as large as MLB, there aren’t teams that are constantly trying to jump around any loophole they can to be better than other teams. It’s really hard to think that the baseball operations departments of all 30 MLB teams are sticking to vanilla plans that would make MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred at least bat an eye.
Every MLB team “cheats” a little bit. Sign-stealing has been a thing ever since the curveball became popular in 1874. But the Astros took sign-stealing too far.
Think of it this way: when a pitcher tips their pitches or a hitter gets reconnaissance of pitching signs from a baserunner, it’s like someone peeking at the answers on the exam of the person sitting next to them. That person can do a better job of obstructing the view of their exam (better conceal the pitch being thrown, or mix up the sign patterns) in order to prevent the peeker from cheating.
But in this case, the Astros were looking at the exam of the team sitting next to them, and that team had no way to cover up their paper so the Astros couldn’t see. It’s unfair and doesn’t live up to the values of integrity that baseball is commonly associated with the outside of the pros.
This scandal has exposed a major flaw with MLB’s generally lax approach to finding and punishing cheating. An example of this is MLB’s Steroid Era, during which the league banned the use of steroids in 1991. During the 1990s, offensive outputs increased, and it was becoming more common for sluggers to pass the 50 home-run mark. Finally, in 2003, mandatory drug-tests were instituted.
If MLB indeed finds the Astros guilty, they need to be severely punished in order to show to the rest of the league that they are no longer handing out slaps on the wrist as they have in the past.