In November, Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic published an article detailing how the Houston Astros electronically stole signs during their 2017 World Series championship season. Current Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers, who spent parts of three seasons with the Astros, went on the record to say his former team had a tech-fueled sign-stealing scheme in 2017.
Shortly after the article came out, MLB launched an investigation., and the league punished the Astros for electronically stealing signs during their World Series title run in 2017 and in part of the 2018 season. Houston was fined $5 million and lost first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were handed one-year suspensions from the league before they were both fired by the Astros.
Below are more things to know about the Astros sign-stealing scandal and MLB's sanctions against the team.
What did the Astros do?
As noted in the introduction, the Astros used a camera positioned in center field to steal signs during games. Team personnel would watch the feed in a hallway between the clubhouse and dugout, and would relay what was coming to the hitter by hitting a garbage can. You can watch it play out for yourself right here.
MLB's investigation revealed the Astros initially developed a system using illegal electronics to decode signs so a runner on second base could relay the sign to the hitter. Houston first tried whistling and clapping to relay signs from the dugout before settling on banging a garbage can. MLB's report says the Astros stole signs throughout the 2017 regular season and postseason, and early in 2018 as well.
Why was this a big deal?
Because it's against the rules -- and not just in the "unwritten" sense, like old-school sign-stealing. Baseball took explicit steps to ban this kind of behavior heading into the 2019 season, limiting the amount of live-feed access available to teams, and not permitting in-house cameras between the foul poles. MLB first warned teams against high-tech sign-stealing in September 2017 and issued several reminders in 2018 and 2019.
What were Houston's penalties?
There were five major penalties for the Astros from Manfred. Here they are:
· Manager A.J. Hinch suspended for the 2020 season. Hinch was then fired by the Astros.
· GM Jeff Luhnow suspended for the 2020 season. Luhnow was then fired by the Astros.
· Former assistant GM Brandon Taubman suspended one year.
· Astros forfeit their first- and second- round draft picks the next two years.
· Astros fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under MLB's constitution.
MLB's report says the Astros can not skirt the draft-pick penalty through free-agent compensation or any other means. If they surrender high picks to sign free agents, they'll lose picks the following year instead. One way or the other, the Astros will lose their next two first-round picks and their next two second-round picks.
What happens to the players involved?
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred decided he would not hand out any discipline to the players involved in the Astros sign-stealing scheme. There are three reasons for this:
- MLB promised players immunity in exchange for their cooperation during the investigation.
- Manfred released a memo in 2017 warning teams the general manager and manager would be held responsible for any such sign-stealing allegations.
- Manfred called disciplining players "impractical" because it would be difficult to assign proper blame.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the , still awaits his punishment from the league as Boston is currently under investigation for a sign-stealing scheme of their own from the 2018 championship season. A day after Luhnow's and Hinch's firings, .
Mets manager Carlos Beltran was the only 2017 Astros player named in Manfred's report. .
Don't other teams do this?
It stands to reason that every team tries stealing signs. That's part of the game. The issue is how signs are being stolen -- and that the Astros took things too far in their pursuit of an advantage. Manfred's report even said Astros players knew what they were doing crossed the line.
Even so, it should be noted the Astros are not the only team to cross the line. The Red Sox have since been wrapped up in a different sign-stealing scandal,during their 2018 World Series title campaign.
There have undoubtedly been other instances over the years where teams have stolen signs using technology that either went undetected or unreported. The Astros might be the latest team busted, but they won't be the last.