Sign Stealing Controversy: What You Need to Know

What are signs in baseball?

There are all sorts of signs in baseball to tell teammates what to do while not allowing the opposing team to know what is coming.

Offensive signs are mainly between the dugout or the base coaches to the batter. Bunting is directed, stealing and all manner of hitting and running choices are signed to each other. These signs look quite ridiculous.

Defensive signs are mainly between the catcher and the pitcher. These signs are also read and understood by the middle infielders (2nd base and short stop) in case they are going to throw down to 2nd and stop a steal. These are the most important signs in our understanding of this scandal. A catcher will tell a pitcher to throw a fastball, curve ball, slider etc. In this case, the Astro’s were looking for off-speed pitches. These are the pitches that aren’t fast but move a lot in and out of the strike zone. If a batter knows this pitch is coming, they are less likely to swing. This is an advantage for the batter.

What are they accused of doing?

The Astros are accused of using a video camera that had a live feed to an area outside their dugout. Players, coaches and other organization members would watch the signs and try to decode them. Once the signs were decoded, when the catcher signaled an off-speed pitch they would bang a trash can really loud. The batter would then know what was coming. This was all reported on by the Atlantic here.

Who was behind this at the Astros?

From all the reports it looks like bench coach Alex Cora was the leading voice behind it. Manager A.J. Hinch from reports was against it, twice, reportedly, he went out and broke the system. But he allowed it to continue. Alex Cora is now the Manager of the Boston Red Sox.

When was this used?

This system was only used at Minute Maid Park in Houston but the accusation was throughout the 2017 season.

The Houston Astros won 101 games that season and won the World Series, defeating the 104-win Dodgers in 7 games. They ended the World Series with a road win. Reports are mixed on whether this system of sign stealing continued into the post-season.

MLB came back after this season and clarified rules of sign stealing saying that the use of electronic help to steal signs is strictly forbidden.

Are the Astros the only team that does this?

It would be naive to say they are alone in this. The Atlantic report says they got the idea from other teams. But the Houston Astros are also uniquely viewed as the worst or most sophisticated violators. They have a reputation in the League among other teams that has led to hysteria. It is impossible for all the accusations leveled against them to be correct. However, they do stand out as the most gross violator of sign stealing rules.

What is going to happen next?

Major League Baseball came down with their punishments on the Astros this week. Both the manager, A.J. Hinch and the General Manager Luhnow were suspended a year. The Astros lost their first AND second round draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 drafts. They were also fined $5 million.

After the punishments came down from MLB, Houston ownership fired Hinch and Luhnow.

The Astros have been a fascinating team over the last few years as they went from worst-in-the-league to 100-win seasons. A lot of that success has been credited to Luhnow that developed good, young players and Hinch’s ability to manage (Hinch made our greatest Astro’s team). The future of the Astros will be a major story line going forward.

As for Alex Cora, he ought to be nervous. From all reports this was his idea and he implemented it, against the wishes and feelings of Hinch. Cora is currently the manager of the Red Sox and won a World Series in 2018 (beating the LA Dodgers in 5 games).

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