Astros cheating allegations ignite questions regarding success in postseason

By Katherine Coble || News Editor

Photo courtesy of reviewjournal.com

The Houston Astros are in hot water this week following dramatic cheating allegations stemming from behavior that occurred during the 2017 World Series. The Astros won that series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. In an article by The Athletic, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers served as the whistleblower—breaking open the case.

Fiers claims that throughout home games that season, the Astros used a camera to view opposing catchers’ pitching signs. Then, in real-time, they would inform the hitter of the upcoming pitch by banging on a trash can near the dugout. When the trash can was banged on, an off-speed pitch was coming. When it was silent, a fastball was on its way. The cheating mechanism appears simple but was surely effective. The Astros were 8-1 in home games during the 2017 postseason, including 2-1 at home during the World Series. 

This particular scandal comes at a unique time. In the modern era, nearly every postseason baseball play from the past decade can be found and repeatedly examined. In light of these allegations, the 2017 Astros are facing intense scrutiny online. As the New York Times Magazine puts it, a “cottage industry” of sports YouTubers has popped up attempting to find every single case of cheating from the Astros that season. “Baseball Prospectus” blogger Rob Arthur even ran audio data from MLB games, looking for the distinct banging noise of the dugout garbage can, and found that those bangs line up almost exactly with the fastballs of opposing pitchers. 

Sign stealing has been a part of baseball almost since its inception. The first case of it, according to The Athletic, occurred in 1876 by the Hartford Dark Blues (they folded the following year). In 1951, members of the New York Giants stole signs from the Brooklyn Dodgers using a telescope. Although the act of sign stealing in itself is not specifically banned by the MLB, the use of electronics or mechanics to aid sign stealing is. It raises bigger issues of fair play and sportsmanship, which have been made all the more complicated in the modern era.

In 2017, the very same year that the allegations against the Astros occurred, the Boston Red Sox were fined for violating rules about electronics. During a regular-season series against their rival New York Yankees, an assistant coach for the Red Sox used an Apple Watch to communicate about catcher signals to the Boston players. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred fined them an undisclosed amount. At the time that fine was viewed as a warning to all thirty teams, and Manfred warned he would not be afraid to punish more harshly if cheating occurred again.

The league has been investigating these latest Astros allegations for some time now and plans to wrap up that investigation by the beginning of December according to the New York Times. Their punishment is sure to be hefty, given the circumstances, but many fans of other teams are sure to feel any punishment is not harsh enough.

Senior Katherine Coble is the News Editor. Her email is kcoble@fandm.edu.

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