On Monday, the Houston Astros’ manager and general manager were fired by the team’s owner after Major League Baseball determined the team had used an electronic system that stole other teams’ pitching signs throughout the 2017 season in which they won the World Series.
Prior to the firing of manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow by Houston Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane, Major League Baseball announced the two men had been suspended without pay for one season, as CNN reported. MLB also announced that the team would still have to forfeit its regular first- and second-round selections in 2020 and 2021 drafts and pay a $5 million fine.
During the MLB investigation, multiple people in the Astros organization told MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office that they knew of eight other teams that also used a system to decode signs of the other teams.
Although sign-stealing is perfectly legitimate if an opposing runner is able to do so from watching the batter, and has been practiced in baseball virtually since its inception, electronic sign stealing is forbidden. The MLB investigation was triggered by a report in November in The Athletic, quoting former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers warning his teammates on the Oakland Athletics that the Astros had implemented the use of an outfield camera to steal signs, then relay them to employees in the Astros video replay room.
A player in the video replay room would signal the dugout; other players would be alerted or the sign would be relayed to a runner at second base who would signal the batter what pitch was coming. CNN added, “On occasions, employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence with text messages sent to a staff member on the bench with a smart phone — or, in other instances, to a cell phone nearby, the investigation found … According to witnesses, one or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera, and after decoding the sign, a player would ‘bang a nearby trash can with a bat’ to communicate the upcoming type of pitch the batter, the findings say.”
According to the MLB report, no bang meant a fastball.
Luhnow released a statement in which he said he was not involved with the cheating:
Here is Jeff Luhnow's full statement, his first response to today's news. pic.twitter.com/9AbDFEtkbP
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) January 13, 2020
During the 2019 American League Championship Series, the New York Yankees accused the Astros of cheating by whistling. Hinch insisted:
Man, I’m glad you asked that question, and I thought it would come up today. We talked about this the other day, and in reality it’s a joke, but you know, major league baseball does a lot to ensure the fairness of the game; there’s people everywhere, if you go through the dugouts and the clubhouses and the hallways, there’s like so many people around that are doing this, and then, when I get contacted about some questions about whistling, it made me laugh, because it’s ridiculous. And had I known that it would take something like that to set off the Yankees or any other team, we would have practiced it in spring training. And we woulda got – it apparently works even when it doesn’t happen. So to me, I understand the gamesmanship; I understand kind of creating a narrative for yourself or wondering how things are going … the problem that I have is when other people take shots at us outside this competition; you now, when you guys ask me this question, my face, my name, is by my quotes, my opinions, my reaction is all for you guys to tweet out … when we have people that are unnamed, or you guys have sources that are giving you information, I suggest they put their name by it if they’re so passionate about it to comment on my team or my players.