The Houston Astros have taken treachery to a new level. Monday, Major League Baseball announced disciplinary measures after an investigation showed the Astros employed a camera-based sign-stealing system in the 2017 playoffs and World Series and into the 2018 season. The discipline included suspending general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch. The Astros chose to fire them both.
The Astros also were fined $5 million and will lose first- and second-round picks in the drafts of 2020 and 2021.
Stealing signs is an art form in baseball – many players have done it, although it’s not illegal if technology is not used. Minnesota’s Joe Mauer was accused of stealing signs in 2009 when video showed him on second base, tapping his helmet in various ways prior to a pitch being thrown to a teammate.
Baseball players who have perfected the art will, for instance, lean one direction when a fastball is on the way, then lean another when an off-speed pitch is imminent. Or they’ll bend an arm for one pitch, but not for another. All of this is easy for a batter to see when a sign-stealing runner is on second base.
And while morally questionable, rules only declare that stealing signs is illegal when using technology.
The case against the Astros is decidedly villainous. They set up cameras in the outfield and monitors near the dugout, then would give signals to batters. To avoid detection, the team set up the monitors just before game time and then quickly took them down at the conclusion of the game.
The team obviously was using technology and obviously was trying to cover its tracks. It’s fascinating it would take such a monumental risk, since so many players and coaches change teams each season.
Of course, this is the same Astros team that fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on the eve of the World Series after he taunted women sports reporters in the locker room. That came after the team won the American League playoffs with help from pitcher Roberto Osuna, who was signed by the Astros despite serving a long suspension regarding domestic violence.
One of the reporters had been an active voice against domestic violence. Taubman, in the locker room, screamed “I’m so (expletive) glad we got Osuna” several times at the women reporters. The Astros then denied the incident happened – insinuating the women reporters had fabricated the story – before firing Taubman several days later.
The Astros owner, Jim Crane, deserves much of the blame, yet he is being allowed to remain in the game as his subordinates suffer the consequences. It’s a bit like Nixon in the book “All the President’s Men.”
Crane was the head of this company as it hired the previously suspended Osuna, as it created an atmosphere for an employee to taunt and intimidate women reporters, and as it very publicly accused the reporter of lying. Now, the team is embroiled in one of the largest cheating scandals in sports. This is all in the past few months.
That’s some company culture, and it amounts to a sad, messy stain on America’s pastime.
For big-league sports to remain relevant, they must rely on integrity. The Astros have none, and are getting what they deserve.