Reacting to the Astros’ Sign Stealing Scandal

Story posted February 26, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Zech Lambert

More often than not, the MLB offseason headlines are dominated by the biggest trade or free agent signing that year. But the 2019-2020 was a different story.

Former Houston Astros, and current Oakland Athletics, pitcher Mike Fiers came out to the media this winter and cranked the hot stove up to max level when he informed the baseball world that the Astros had been cheating during their 2017 World Series title run.

In an interview with The Athletic, Fiers reported that the Astros were using a monitor to illegally steal the signs the catcher was putting down and then using a loud noise, namely banging a trash can, to relay that sign to the batter.

Fans, players, front office personnel and coaches alike were all furious when this story came out. Los Angeles Angels MVP outfielder Mike Trout was one of the players angered by the cheating.

“I lost respect for some of those guys,” Trout said.

After the news broke, Major League Baseball launched an investigation into the incident. In the report released by commissioner Rob Manfred, it was factually proven that the Astros cheated in 2017 and parts of 2018.

While these allegations have been factually proven, there has been speculation that the Astros cheated in all of 2018 and even 2019, although Manfred did not confirm these in his reports.

While many people feel the Astros should have their 2017 World Series championship title stripped, some people feel the punishment was just, including Daniel Beaver, a White Sox fan and professor of baseball history at Penn State.

“The league has had a response that helped to promote a sense that this has not been overlooked or downplayed,” Beaver said.

Manfred spoke about the potential stripping of the Astros title, and said it seemed like a futile act to take away a “piece of metal”. Referring to the World Series trophy, the highest accomplishment in all of the sport of baseball, as a “piece of metal” was a huge mistake on the part of Manfred, who immediately apologized.

“We play for a reason. You play for that piece of metal. I’m very proud of the three that I have. If that’s the way he feels, he needs to take his name off the trophy,” Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said.

Some people have also called for an asterisk to be added next to the title of world champs. Jake Kaplan covers the Astros for The Athletic said putting an asterisk on a piece of paper would not do much.

“Everybody knows there was something different about the 2017 season,” Kaplan said, “There’s not an asterisk next to Barry Bonds’s home run total.”

The biggest effect from the scandal will be the effect on the MLB as a whole. There have now been rumors that other teams have cheated too, although nothing is confirmed because no players have come out and said something like Fiers did, Kaplan said.

“A lot of people think it’s a league wide issue [but] I think you need people to talk about it,” Kaplan said.

Most importantly, though, the integrity of the greatest spectacle in baseball, the World Series, was compromised for only the second time in its storied history.

In 1919, some players on the Chicago Black Sox, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, took money to lose the World Series.

“The 2017 Astros scandal, alongside the 1919 scandal, in this context we have players who were cheating to win which I guess is marginally more encouraging,” Beaver said, “It’s still a corruption of the game.”

MLB has implemented personnel into every team’s replay rooms this season to ensure a situation like this does not occur again, but there will still be fan speculation. There will still be angry fans. There will still be upset fans. There will still be plenty of heckling fans.

The Astros have already started hearing it from fans at spring training. Fans have showed up with signs which, rather ironically, have been taken away by stadium staff members. Surprisingly, though, Kaplan said that the atmosphere around the team is “not as different as you might think.” He cited that professional athletes are good at blocking things out, and that there are actually only 10 players remaining from the 2017 team. Kaplan did say the team has faced a lot of questions, especially in the first week.

The game that this scandal could have left the biggest impact potentially is game five of the 2017 World Series. The Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 13-12 in Minute Maid Park. The Astros would lose game six, and eventually win game seven to win the title.

While the sign stealing could have very well been a major factor in the Astros putting up 13 runs, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa has said that it is much louder in the playoffs, making it more difficult to hear the bangs. Correa also said that catchers will have multiple sets of signs, which make them more difficult to steal. Although, Tom Verducci recently reported that in said game five, Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw threw 51 breaking balls and recorded zero swings and misses.

A fan by the name of Tony Adams went back documented every bang he heard from the 2017 season, and did not note as many during the postseason as he did during the regular season. Whether or not the Astros stole signs during this game is unknown, but it raises skepticism since Kershaw had a staggering 2% swing and miss rate on his breaking pitches in Game 5 and not a single swing and miss after the first inning.

This is where the biggest question marks come up, and where they will remain forever. The 2017 Astros were, without question, loaded with talent. They won the AL West by 21 games and totaled 101 wins on the season. There is just no way to ever know what would have happened had the Astros not cheated. It took them seven games to take down the New York Yankees in the ALCS and seven games to take down the Dodgers in the World Series. Would the Yankees have made, and possibly won, the World Series? Would the Dodgers have won the World Series? These questions will surround the Astros, and their stained 2017 title run, for baseball eternity.

 

 

Zech Lambert is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email zbl5146@psu.edu.