I’ve gone back and forth on writing this article. I understand that no matter what I say, people will read it as a biased Astros perspective. I want to start with a strong disclaimer. I do not think that in any way what the Astros did was right. I do not think think the acts of others justify what they did. I am not claiming innocence of players, coaches, or the front office. Where my issue and reason for writing this article boils down to the following 11 words:
“I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros.” – Rob Manfred
Let’s start with the obvious component that even the initial story that came to light about the sign stealing stated that it was brought to the Astros by a “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team,”, even Fiers claimed he believed other teams were doing it and the article specifically stated :
“[I]nside the game, there is a belief which is treated by players and staff as fact: That illegal sign stealing, particularly through advanced technology, is everywhere.
“It’s an issue that permeates through the whole league,” one major league manager said. “The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”
Electronic sign stealing is not a single-team issue. Major League Baseball rules prohibit clubs from using electronic equipment to steal catchers’ signs and convey information. Still, the commissioner’s office hears complaints about many different organizations — everything from mysterious people in white shirts sending signals from center field to elaborate systems involving television cameras and tablets.”
I do completely understand that Manfred is doing his job. Sweeping it under the rug, is probably the best thing for baseball. I know that myself and the entire team writing at TCB has questioned if we would remain Astros / Baseball fans (I highly recommend a read of CKuno’s piece – A Return to the Limits of Fandom) – why would he want to do that to fans everywhere and lose business? I don’t think this is a big conspiracy against the Astros… just business. Even Manfred’s saying “I’ve got no choice here” in his call to Red Sox owner John Henry indicates that he was not looking to get the bottom of the issue, but simply to put it to bed from a PR perspective.
But for all the fans that are outraged about what occurred, wouldn’t you want this issue to come to light and to be stopped? For the MLB to investigate – maybe even implement further measures than a memo to the league saying hey stop that?
Now to be clear, stealing signs isn’t against the rules, using technology to do so IS.
Since the punishments have come down, there have been quite a few people to speak out, and something tells me it’s the tip of the iceberg of what is to come.
Before we go into the players claims let’s start with some of the MLB ones:
As we start to look though, the Astros way of doing it isn’t even innovative. In fact, it looks pretty identical to the one Cleveland ran in 1959/1960:
“‘A guy sat in centerfield and looked through a telescope,’ Tanner said. ‘He had a buzzer that would ring once for fastball, twice for a curve, and three times for a pitchout.’ The buzzer sounded in a restroom adjacent to the Indian dugout. The messenger inside would bang the message on the door, a coach in the dugout would relay it to the hitter. The system worked until the Indians made a trade. They were afraid the traded player would turn them in.”
Red Sox Accuse Yankees, who accuse Red Sox
One of the funnier ones I’ll highlight, the Yankees accused the Red Sox of stealing signs in 2018 in the famous apple watch incident. The Red Sox counter claimed that the Yankees were using the YES cameras inappropriately. The MLB issued undisclosed fines to both teams.
While the overall situation was handled in-house, it really sparked Manfred to push the need for the use of technology to stop. Here was his comment at the time:
“When I did the fines with the Yankees and the Red Sox it was wholly out of whack with fines of the past and I knew it was thin soup at the time, which is why I wrote the thing the way that I did. Just stop. You have to stop. I think you know how clubs are about [draft] picks. That’s why I explicitly mentioned draft picks.”
Interestingly, there’s speculation based on Cora’s comments about the Red Sox Yankees series this year about how Beltran was their biggest off-season acquisition, with reference to the “devices” used and a wink.
Brewers Accuse Dodgers
The Athletic also published an article where the Brewer’s had believed the Dodgers were using electronics to steal signs. “They use video people to get sequences,” a Brewers source told The Athletic regarding the Dodgers last October. “It’s known throughout the league. MLB knows it’s an issue.” The Mets claimed something similar about the Dodgers earlier in the year with Syndergaard claiming “I feel like the only way they could have gotten to that was to cheat.”
Brewers and Rangers implicated
Houston is one of three teams I’ve had multiple players identify to me as the most egregious with electronic sign stealing. The others: Milwaukee and Texas. https://t.co/sb4764mFDB
— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) November 12, 2019
Jim Jones, while a BBWAA writer, is not a member of a team so I completely understand discounting this. But there was a VERY public twitter dispute between Yu Darvish and Christian Yelich because Darvish claimed that the Brewers were stealing signs through technology and then relaying signs to Yelich from the bullpen.
And while the MLB tries to generally keep these issues quiet, there’s been some players who have stepped forward calling out the recent investigation:
Logan Morrison’s post
Some more detailed accusations from Logan Morrison on Instagram, calling out the Astros as far back as 2014, as well as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox for using technology to aid sign-stealing. pic.twitter.com/h7TySzpO1W
— John Trupin (@JohnTrupin) January 13, 2020
While the Red Sox and Astros are not surprising, this is a player who was on the Yankees payroll in 2019 claiming that the Yankees and Dodgers were also involved. People will view this with some levels of skepticism, citing a supposed vendetta against the Yankees, which is interesting as that’s exactly how it started with Mike Fiers.
Coach Tim Flannery’s take on the sign stealing issue. Insiders perspective is right on! As a coach your doing everything you can to give your team an advantage. If you played this game you know how it works. The chess match , cat & mouse game is what makes this game beautiful. pic.twitter.com/AYR3ltxReG
— Fred Manriquez (@fmanriquez11) January 14, 2020
Flannery speaking out is notable, as there is no distinct gain for him doing so. His commentary is slightly different as it largely focuses on stealing signs from the third baseman, although it would fall under the same rule category of using technology to steal signs. His accusations included the Mets, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Cardinals, etc.
“Foster is a former major league pitcher who is currently the pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies…Foster believes one of those teams (stealing signs electronically) is the Milwaukee Brewers.”
— Kyle Lesniewski (@Kyle_Lesniewski) January 15, 2020
The pitching coach of the Colorado Rockies made a claim that the Brewers were electronically stealing signs. BrewCrew did an analysis on the series he was referencing.
Mike Scott admits Mets did essentially the same thing
In Mike Scott’s book, he admitted the Mets essentially committed the same thing that the Astros were just punished for. Joe Torre was the manager of the Mets at this time.
Cy Young winner Jack McDowell dropped a bomb admitting to the White Sox stealing signs in nearly exactly the same way. McDowell states that they used a camera zoomed into the catcher to steal signs in which they’d relay to hitters via a light on the scoreboard.
Interestingly, McDowell specifically cites Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as the mastermind of the idea.
“This stuff’s getting old, where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook,” McDowell said. “ … Everybody who’s been around the game knows all this stuff.”
Steve Phillips – ex-Mets GM [when discussing if the Mets responding to Beltran after he was named in the report]: ““I think that the players are going to respond to him,” he said. “Because … this has gone on with a lot of teams.””
Dellin Betances [citing Beltran as the reason he signed with the Mets, having worked with him while on the Yankees]: ““Beltran is a guy that’s one of the best at providing information to other players,”
Manual Corpas – [Discussion on Phillies stealing signs via binoculars and relaying them this season ] – “If you’re dumb enough to let us get them it’s your fault. It’s been going on in the game a long time. If you’re dumb enough to let us get them, that’s your problem.”
I want to be clear, none of this absolves the Astros from what they did. None of this makes it right or removes the cloud over the organization. I’m not claiming any of the above accusations to be true, simply that they should be investigated if people truly care about eliminating this cheating from the game. All of this points to it being a far larger issue than the MLB wants it to appear as.
Some will argue that the rules were not in place when other teams did it, but that fact is simply not true. While the MLB did not aggressively punish teams, it was clearly against the rules and the MLB memo simply reinforced that and attempted to clarify to eliminate loopholes. There was never a question if what occurred was against the rules.
During the time looking some of this up, I came across a Bobby Valentine (who also admitted to using technology to steal signs) quote from WFAN where he talks about how MLB has had 70 years to stop this and I think helps highlight why it’s important to force the MLB to put preventative measures in place.
“At the end of the day, this isn’t only a punishment situation,” Valentine added. “This is a “solve the problem” situation and the problem is that technology has afforded the opportunity (for) people to steal signs. You have to come up with the technology that keeps people from stealing the signs. End of conversation.”
With a relatively mild amount of research, we have allegations from former players, coaches, other teams against more than two thirds of the league. Which makes the statement from Manfred frankly laughable, to the extent that a sitting Congressman Bobby Rush recently called for a Congressional investigation and oversight into the matter. (Please refrain from political commentary on this post)
If you thought this was going away today, you were wrong. Now there’s a call from Congressman Bobby Rush of Illinois for a Congressional Oversight hearing on the MLB cheating scandal. pic.twitter.com/TJlreTHKYr
— Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEephus) January 17, 2020
With that said, I’m torn on whether it’s better for all of the dirty laundry to be dug up. Baseball as a sport is hurting, arguably dying, and if a majority of fan bases found this to cheating to be as widespread and rampant as it looks to be, it could be catastrophic for baseball. I mean I write for a baseball website and will be honest there were times that I’d question if I not only wanted to keep writing, but if I even wanted to keep caring about baseball. On the other hand, making a team a scapegoat and the bane of baseball doesn’t feel right.
I see a lot of fans chirping about the @astros. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean your team is squeaky clean. It’s not what you know it’s what you can prove! There are many players that know a lot about what’s going on with different teams so I wouldn’t celebrate, yet.
— Preston Wilson (@PrestonWilson44) January 14, 2020
I want to hear your thoughts, particularly from fans of other teams. Should players be banned? If so, does that include players now on other teams? There’s 25 players that have been on other teams since the 2017 Astros – should they receive punishments too? What about the players they told? The hole gets deeper as other teams get implicated/proven guilty.
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