MLB made an example of the Astros in 2020, warning the rest of baseball to cease illegal sign-stealing in the process. Will Houston ever live it down?
Cheating scandals — in professional baseball more than any other sport — are rarely forgotten. Baseball fans who were alive to witness it will always remember the steroid scandal and subsequent Mitchell Report, as well as Pete Rose’s gambling scandal. Hell, even the Black Sox and Shoeless Joe Jackson have received their own place in popular sports culture.
The Astros, however, are the first public cheating scandal to take place in the social media age of professional baseball. They are easily the most significant, and rode an illegitimate campaign all the way to the baseball mountaintop. While the impact of said sign-stealing is constantly debated around the sport, it was undoubtedly employed in the ’17 season, and potentially even 2018 and beyond depending on who you ask.
In 2021, with largely a new coaching staff and roster, the Astros have returned to the World Series with only a few remaining members of that 2017 team — the likes of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa. But is the Astros reputation beyond saving?
Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, explained
The Astros used cameras in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons to steal signs from opposing teams. Not just that, but a camera system was installed in Houston’s dugout to help relay said signs to the batter via a loud trash can bang.
The Astros are booed universally at every ballpark minus Minute Maid in America and even Toronto, despite few members of that team remaining on the 2021 squad. Even as recently as this postseason, White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera accused the Astros of stealing signs in the ALDS.
“They’ve obviously had a reputation of doing some sketchy stuff over there,” Tepera said. “It’s just, we can say that it’s a little bit of a difference. I think you saw the swings and misses [Sunday] compared to the first two games at Minute Maid. But that’s not really the story, you know? We come here to play. We’re going to compete. We’re not going to worry about what they’re going to do.”
Dusty Baker responded in turn, calling the allegations excessively serious given Houston’s history. The Astros would go on to hammer the White Sox the remaining few games of the series.
There is no evidence to suggest the Astros are still stealing signs. They were fined $5 million by MLB, and fired their manager and general manager. Their World Series in 2017 is forever tainted, despite the fact that Rob Manfred did not take it away.
Will Astros ever live down sign-stealing scandal?
Houston was punished, but not enough by the standards of most baseball fans. They held onto their trophy, and the players were all let off scot-free.
And, to the Astros own benefit, they have responded quite well to the adversity. Houston made the ALCS in 2020, and is the American League’s representative in the World Series (at the very least) in 2021. If anything, they’ve been granted a chance at redemption that most around the sport don’t think they deserve quite yet.
Karma very rarely delivers in sports, and the Astros along with their fans are quick to point out how many subsequent reports of sign-stealing by other teams have become public knowledge since Houston was made the poster boy. The Astros were not alone in their wrongdoing.
It doesn’t make what the Astros did right, but it ought to plant a seed of doubt as to if, just perhaps, that immediate distaste the majority of baseball has for the Houston baseball franchise come first pitch on Tuesday is exaggerated to a fault.