The infamous sign-stealing scandal of 2017 continues to be a black eye on the Houston Astros organization.
Though the Houston Astros have won the American League for the third time in five years, they are still paying for the wrongdoings of the 2017 sign-stealing scandal that culminated in them winning their first World Series in franchise history.
While stealing signs is not technically illegal in baseball, it is frowned upon. Though it would serve every ballclub to get a competitive edge wherever they can, using technology to college other team’s signs is a huge issue. Even if other teams were doing unethical things like this around the same time, the Astros were caught, punished and still wear a scarlet letter for their involvement.
Here is a rundown of the series of events that led to the Astros’ infamous sign-stealing scandal.
Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal background
Once MLB allowed replay review in its game, it was only a matter of time before teams would figure out a way to exploit it. Each team had a video replay room where members of that club could watch live feed of the ballgame going on and relay back to the dugout if they should challenge a call or not. Not until the 2018 postseason was a league official present in those rooms.
Houston won over 100 games during the 2017 season. The Astros ran roughshod through the postseason, boasting an incredible home record of 8-1 vs. the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers. This includes winning all four games at home during the 2017 ALCS vs. New York. All the while, rampant speculation of cheating began to surround them.
Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal speculations and accusations
Though teams like the Dodgers and the Cleveland Indians had accused the Astros of cheating, it was all kind of in the background until Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic opened up a can of worms in their 2019 exposé. In short, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers said the club had a live feed of the centerfield camera hooked up in the dugout and they would steal signs that way.
From there, an Astros player or coach would bang on a trash can to indicate what pitch was coming. Jimmy O’Brien of Jomboy Media would later publish YouTube videos and share them on Twitter of examples of rampant Astros cheating going on in real time. There was also an email that the organization asked its scouts to help steal signs from the opposition by use of video cameras.
Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal investigation by MLB
In the immediate aftermath of The Athletic’s exposé, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred ordered an investigation into the matter in 2019. The league’s investigation in the matter lasted from mid-November 2019 after The Athletic’s report and into very early January 2020. MLB found the Astros used an illegal video camera system to steal signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal findings and terminations
MLB fined the Astros $5 million, which is the maximum fine amount they could legally dole out. This scandal caused Houston to forfeit its first and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Amateur Draft. Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended by the league for the entire 2020 season. The Astros fired Hinch and Lunhnow immediately after.
And it stemmed deeper than that actually. Former Astros bench coach Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox manager agreed to part ways during the 2020 MLB season for his role in the sign-stealing scandal. Boston re-hired him amid controversy ahead of the 2021 campaign. Former Astros player Carlos Beltran was fired before he even managed a game for the New York Mets.
Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal fallout, public reaction, impact
The weird part in all of this is none of the active players who were part of the cheating scandal were punished as a result. This was clearly a rabbit hole MLB was not willing to go down with the MLBPA. Factor in this scandal only surfaced months before the global pandemic and things got even weirder as a result. Houston became public enemy No. 1, but played in front of no fans.
The Astros hired veteran skipper Dusty Baker to manage the team. While the Astros were reviled by baseball fans all over social media, fans could not relentlessly boo them until the 2021 MLB season when fans were back in attendance. Of course, how could we ever forget about Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly from throwing at Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa during a 2020 game.
Though the public reaction to the Astros is not nearly as visceral as it once was, this organization will carry this stigma until all the players associated with the 2017 World Series championship team are no longer playing for the organization. Then again, this scandal will always come up whenever the Astros are playing in a World Series or are in the midst of a big postseason push.
Game 1 of the 2021 World Series between the Astros and the Atlanta Braves begins on Tuesday.