They had done it. The Houston Astros proved that what the Chicago Cubs did was not a fluke. They tore down the entire foundation of their team, traded away all their great players and started from scratch. They won the 2017 World Series. They had raised the trophy up as the champions of the baseball world. The consensus belief around the Major League Baseball was that there was no way it could happen that quickly. The Astros proved otherwise; they had done the unthinkable. But after a thorough investigation by MLB, the Astros will be remembered for something much different in 2017 than their journey from worst to first.
Mike Fiers, a pitcher for the Astros during their 2017 run (now a member of the Oakland Athletics), came out after the 2019 season and told reporters the truth about the Houston Astros: the Astros had cheated their way to victory. As fans of baseball, we should all be praising Fiers. It takes courage to come out and tell the league what is going on. Not only did he share the story, but he was willing to put his name on it, ultimately giving the story more credibility. It is much less likely that Major League Baseball would have investigated the Astros’ success if the truth had been released by an anonymous source.
Upon investigation, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred discovered that the Astros had implemented a center field camera at their home ballpark which relayed footage to a monitor in their clubhouse, showing what fingers the opposing team’s catcher were putting down. The fingers tell the other players what type of pitch is coming. Someone in the Astros organization would watch the monitor in the clubhouse, and then this person would bang on a trashcan a certain number of times, depending on what type of pitch was coming.
Sign-stealing has existed since the beginning of baseball. If you can pick up something the pitcher is doing to tip his pitches, that is fair game. Where Houston (and the Boston Red Sox in 2018) crossed the line was how they did it. They had used technology that was prohibited by Major League Baseball to steal signs from the opposing team— and this isn’t the first time it has happened.
In 1951, the famous “shot heard ‘round the world” occurred in the National League pennant, where the Giants faced the Dodgers with a chance to advance to the World Series. Bobby Tompson for the Giants hit a game-winning home run, which is now regarded as one of the most famous moments in the rich history of baseball. It was later discovered that the Giants positioned one of their employees in the owner’s box in centerfield. Using a telescope and a buzzer, the employee was able to see the catcher’s signs, and those signs would eventually be replayed to the batter. No punishment was handed out because there wasn’t enough evidence throughout the years until it was too late to enforce any punishment. Yet, until the Astros cheating scandal was found out, no one mentioned the 1951 Giants as cheaters.
A few weeks ago, MLB reporter Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported the details of the punishments the Astros would be facing. This included one year suspensions for the Astros’ manager, AJ Hinch, and the General Manager, Jeff Lunhow. The league also fined the owner of the team, Jim Crane, five million dollars, which is the both the maximum fine possible and the largest fine ever to be handed out. Finally, the league stripped the Astros of their first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft. These picks may have been the harshest part of the punishment.
Jim Crane then held a press conference a few minutes later and announced that he had fired Hinch and Lunhow. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran were reported to be the masterminds behind the cheating scandal. Cora was the bench coach for the 2017 Astros. In 2018, he was hired to be the manager for the Boston Red Sox, but despite winning the World Series in his first season at the helm, he was fired after just two seasons due to his involvement in the cheating scandal.
The Red Sox also are suspected of stealing signs, as Cora was the manager when they were conducting their own cheating scandal. Carlos Beltran was a player on the 2017 Astros, and it was his last year in the league. He didn’t put up great numbers, but his presence was felt in the clubhouse. The New York Mets hired him as a manager after the 2019 season, but due to his actions in 2017, Beltran was dismissed by the Mets before having the opportunity to manage one game.
Despite all of the harsh punishments, the Astros were never stripped of their World Series title. Whether it is official or not, people are always going to question the entirety of the Astros’ run.
According to sophomore Rahil Malhotra, who roots for the Astros in the American League, the World Series title will be tainted: “Whenever fans think of the historic 2017 run the Astros had, all people will remember is their cheating scandal and usage of cameras. Game five of the World Series…will always be tainted in my mind,” Malhotra said.
What many players are angry about is that some people have lost money or their jobs over the Astros cheating scandal. If you are a rookie and you struggle when pitching in Houston, it could ruin your entire career. MLB pitcher Alex Wood thinks that what the Astros did was worse than taking performance-enhancing drugs.
The Astros were already one of the best teams to begin with; they didn’t need to cross the line. Ultimately, no players were punished by the scandal, putting into question whether players will be discouraged from cheating in the future.
What the Astros did could have done damage to some players’ careers. Dodgers pitchers Yu Darvush and Clayton Kershaw were bashed on every baseball talk show. It seemed like they could never win the big game, and they were making it easy for the Astros to see what was coming by tipping their pitches. Had L.A. won the World Series with both Darvish and Jershaw dominating, our outlook on their careers would be totally different.
The problem with stripping away the Astros’ title is what to do afterwards. Do you award it to the Dodgers who lost in seven games in the World Series? What about the Yankees? They also lost to the Astros to seven games in the American League Championship Series. They won all three games in New York, however they couldn’t win one game in Houston, where the cameras were used.
What about Jose Altuve? Altuve is a great second baseman who won the MVP award for his performance in the 2017 season. What about what happened in 2018? Boston is being investigated for their own sign-stealing scandal, and they also beat the Dodgers in the World Series. If the MLB takes away that trophy, they are getting themselves stuck on a very slippery slope.
This cheating scandal is one of the biggest scandals in MLB history, and something that will be looked back on for generations to come. Fans will always think of the Astros’ title as tainted. Manfred’s tenure will always partially be defined by how he handled the Astros and Red Soxs and if he can put a stop to it moving forward. If Mike Fiers never came out with the behind-the-scenes scoop, we probably would still be marvelling at the Astros’ journey from bottom dwellers to possible dynasty. Even though Manfred let Houston keep their title, there forever will be an Astro-isk.
Alex Rubinson ’22