The date is Nov. 1, 2017. Corey Seager is up to bat, no one on. There is one more out, as the cameras start to come out. Charlie Morton delivers the ninety-six mph fastball and Seager makes direct contact to the right side of the infield. Jose Altuve picks it up, throws it to Yuri Gurriel, and that is it. The entire city of Houston is losing their mind, perhaps more than half the state of Texas. The Astros have just won their first World Series title.
Fast forward two years to Nov. 17, 2019, and the same team has reportedly been accused of cheating during their 2017 playoff run. Then to Jan. 13, 2020 when the MLB publicly announced that these actions did happen and that the Astros must pay repercussions for having an advantage to winning. This brings up many questions not only to Houston’s organization as a whole, the entire MLB.
What Did They Do Exactly?
Many are aware that the Astros created an unfair advantage to their 2017 playoff run. But how did they cheat? The answer lies in a concept known as sign stealing. Houston positioned cameras in center field in each game they played in. Under the influence of coaching, the team would pay attention to each sign and decode through video footage. Then in-game, the dugout would give signs to the hitter, and the MLB reported that the Astros would bang on garbage cans for relay. This is completely outside of the rules, and the MLB made sure to inform teams that high-technology sign stealing is banned.
What Punishments Were in Action?
As deserved, there were multiple enforcements by league officials in order to punish the Houston Astros for cheating. This move not only affected the Astros but hurt multiple coaches involved in the scandal. Houston’s manager, A.J. Hinch was suspended for the upcoming 2020 season, and soon after fired by the organization. The exact same situation happened to the general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and former assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman. Former Houston bench coach Alex Cora, and the Boston Red Sox then parted ways. Soon after, the Mets and newly hired manager Carlos Beltran parted ways, while he was a player on the 2017 championship team. Then, another consequence has the Astros losing their first and second-round draft picks over the next two seasons. To cap it off, the team was fined $5 million, a number which should be higher but the MLB constitution claims that is the maximum amount to fine an organization. This is one of the rules that should be changed varying on the level of punishment. If Astros players on average are making $8-9 million per season, the fine towards the team should be higher to have an effect on their salary cap.
What Punishments Should Have Been Placed?
There is a lot of debate regarding what ELSE should have been enforced. I believe they did get the punishments correct above, but they could have exceeded them towards the players involved. The MLB has a point in not disciplining the players, due to the difficulty of assigning proper blame, and the league promised player immunity during the investigation. But I mean come on, these players can’t get away with cheating, especially since they won a title out of it. The MLB takes action suspending players who take performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) for 82 games. Taking steroids doesn’t guarantee a strong performance at the plate, but it makes it more likely to make strong contact. Cheating through sign-stealing hurts the other team and puts the Astros under an extreme advantage to knowing how the opposing team will play. Alex Wood perfectly described the situation, tweeting out his knowledge towards the situation. He later stated, “I was essentially just likening the two situations because they are very, very similar in terms of the level of cheating they are at. In my personal opinion, I think what’s currently going on, to the extent that it has, is even more serious. Knowing what’s coming, that’s the whole game. That’s the chess match. Literally, if you ask any pitcher on the planet, ‘What’s your job?’ Some guys that can always throw 100 might answer differently, but the game is to mess hitter’s timing up. It’s impossible to do that if they know what’s coming every pitch. It’s pretty wild.” Wood pitched against the Houston Astros as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. He actually pitched well, due to claims of different pitching adjustments to what the Astros could recognize. Anyway, it could have been an increased fine, suspension, or any other punishment, but some sort of discipline should have been directed at the players. Lastly, the World Series title comes into question. I believe that the title should not be taken away, despite these actions by the Astros.
What Does This Mean for Past Winners and the Future of the MLB?
Now one team has publicly been caught, but has there been others accused of the same situation? Recently on Jan. 20, Jack McDowell admitted to sign-stealing apart of the Chicago White Sox in the 1980s…which was 40 years ago. It seems as if it is a strategy of silence before it is too late, in which there may or may not be more teams conducting the same illegal actions.