Major League Baseball rules do not allow teams to use electronic technology to steal signs from the catcher and then relay what pitch is coming to the hitter. But there is an ongoing issue in the league with teams stealing signs electronically, according to a report from The Athletic on Tuesday.
While this issue stretches beyond any one team, the Astros are the club most implicated in the report. Many examples in the story come from 2017, when they won the World Series. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers spoke on the record about Houston's sign-stealing system at Minute Maid Park, which included a TV monitor with a feed from a center field camera near the dugout steps. Astros players would try to decode their opponents' signs and then alert hitters if an off-speed pitch was coming by banging on a dugout trash can, per the report.
In a statement in response to the report, the Astros announced the launch of "an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball," and added that "it would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time."
Fiers, who pitched for the Astros from 2015-17, said his former team was "advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win." Here's more:
"That's not playing the game the right way," said Fiers.
"I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they're going in there not knowing," Fiers said. "Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It's (B.S.) on that end. It's ruining jobs for younger guys. The guys who know are more prepared. But most people don't. That's why I told my team. We had a lot of young guys with Detroit (in 2018) trying to make a name and establish themselves. I wanted to help them out and say, 'Hey, this stuff really does go on. Just be prepared.'"
Former MLB pitcher Danny Farquhar also went on the record with The Athletic. Farquhar, who pitched for the White Sox in 2017, recalled how he noticed a banging in the Astros dugout when his catcher called for a changeup. Sure enough, video from a Farquhar appearance backs up his claim (key footage comes shortly after the 2:58:30 mark). Hat-tip to DBITLefty on Twitter for the excellent find:
Remember,about whistling when an off-speed pitch was coming.
But this issue isn't just limited to the Astros. The Red Sox and Yankees have dealt with allegations as well. The story makes it clear that most teams in baseball believe the Astros go further than any other team, but this piece is important, too:
One Astros source was adamant: The team should not become the poster child for sign stealing. Not when so much is going on with other clubs that MLB has not stopped, they said.
The Astros lost the World Series in seven games after a franchise-record 107 win regular-season in 2019. In fact, three of their four highest win totals ever have come in the past three years, a stretch that includes their first World Series title and two pennants. Of course, their playoff run was marred a major off-field issue, asafter harassing female reporters in the clubhouse. MLB is investigating Taubman, and the league could expand that inquiry into the franchise's sign stealing, according to The Athletic.
Expect the issue of high-tech sign stealing to be a key point of discussion this offseason for Major League Baseball.