The Houston Astros are a storied franchise.
Since coming into the league in 1962, the Astros have won five pennants, two World Series Championships, seven division championships, and have achieved four Wild Card berths. They feature two MVP award winners, four Cy Young winners, and three Rookie of the Year winners.
With a rich history like this, it’s sometimes hard to imagine that the legacy of this franchise is symbolized by a tv camera and a garbage can.
The Houston Astros were the suspects of one of, if not the biggest cheating scandal in the history of Major League Baseball.
The early workings of the scandal began to take place in the Summer of 2017, but Major League Baseball didn’t begin to investigate the Astros until 2019. Former Astro Mike Fiers, who was pitching for the division rival Oakland Atheltics at the time, blew the whistle on his former team.
The scandal was known about by the Astros players, but was kept a secret. The basics of the scheme were this:
The Astros had a camera set up behind the wall of the batter’s eye in center field. The camera was zoomed in on the catcher, so the operator could see the signs being put down. The camera operator would then relay the signs to the replay room, which was located near the Astros dugout. If the camera picked up a sign for an off speed pitch, someone in the dugout would hit a garbage can with a bat to signal the batter what pitch was coming.
The reaction from around the league came quickly, and it was clear that the majority of baseball fans were against the Astros. While many would argue that it was bad enough that the Astros were stealing signs, it was only amplified by the fact that they used the scandal to win the 2017 World Series.
Two fanbases who had major issues with the scandal were fans of the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers, as both teams fell victim to the Astros on their run to the first World Championship in franchise history.
— Eric Hubbs (@BarstoolHubbs) August 25, 2020
The Yankees still seem to have problems with the Astros, as since 2015, the Astros have eliminated New York from the Playoffs four times, three times in the American League Championship Series, including a sweep in 2022. The Dodgers and Yankees both believe that they could have won the 2017 World Series had the Astros not been stealing signs. Some fans even accused Astros star Jose Altuve of wearing a buzzer to steal signs.
Aaron Judge mocks the Jose Altuve buzzer scandal 👀 pic.twitter.com/R9BkHTcS9E
— Fien (@zachefiene) July 11, 2021
Red Sox fans also took issue with what the Astros were doing, as the Astros eliminated Boston in four games in the American League Division Series. Boston’s argument is different, as they went on to win the 2018 World Series, although they were also accused of potentially stealing signs.
Finally found some video footage of the Houston Astros cheating system from 2017, this time implemented against Rick Porcello and the Red Sox. The sound is very loud and clear. pic.twitter.com/lzdrevgAxP
— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) November 20, 2019
The Argument For Sign Stealing
While the fan reaction across baseball was overwhelmingly negative, some fans did try to defend the scandal.
Sign stealing has been a part of baseball since the game was founded. The reason so many people had a problem with what the Astros did was that they took cheating to another level by incorporating technology. This is why there is so much controversy surrounding what the Astros did.
It’s been thought that sign stealing even played a part in some of baseball’s most historic moments, specifically Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world” in 1951. When Thompson hit the pennant clinching home run to seal the New York Giants win over the rival Brooklyn Dodgers, it is believed that someone hiding behind the center field wall at the Polo Grounds was using binoculars and relaying signs to the Giants dugout.
While it’s unknown if that theory is true, it proves how long sign stealing has been a part of the game. Baseball was founded in 1876, and sign stealing has essentially been a part of it since the beginning. What the Astros did was take it to a level nobody had ever seen before.
“A ring’s a ring.”
It seems as though we don’t know what Astros fans thoughts on the scandal are. When I asked a man named James, a lifelong Astros fan who grew up in Houston and currently lives in Dallas, what he thought about the 2017 championship, this was his response.
James doesn’t let the scandal that surrounds the 2017 World Series overshadow his love for his team. He especially doesn’t let the ire of other fanbases bother him, in fact he revels in other teams hatred, specifically the Yankees.
“The more mad Yankee fans get, the happier I am. I know how much they hate us,” he told me. He loves that other fans, especially Yankee fans, view his team as the villain. He made this evident by taking a picture with his family in front of the sign on the wall that says “2017 World Series Champions.” The reason I point this out is that James was the only person I saw take a picture in front of both World Series Championship signs, and not just the one from 2022.
To this day, despite the scandal, James is still a proud Astros fan. He flew from Texas to watch his team in Spring Training, and showed up to The Ballpark of The Palm Beaches wearing a t-shirt with hands forming the shape of a heart with a number three in it for 2022 World Series MVP Jeremy Pena, and a Houston Astros Fourth of July themed hat.
James wasn’t the only Astros fan to show up to South Florida to support his team. The team store was packed with fans wearing Astros merchandise, more buying food and drinks from “H-Town Grill” on the first base side of the concourse, and even more gathering around the bullpen to watch the Astros pitcher warm up. 3,731 fans, the majority of them wearing Houston orange and blue, packed in on a Friday afternoon to watch the team they love so much, despite knowing full the wrongdoings they have committed in the past.
Other Teams Accused Of Sign-Stealing
Since the Astros scandal, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers, have all been accused of stealing signs. Ironically, the fanbases of these teams are the ones who seem to have taken the most issue with the Astros scandal.
Similarly to the Astros, the Boston Red Sox were accused of using their video replay room to steal signs during their run to the 2018 World Series Championship. Commissioner Rob Manfred did not levy the $5 million fine on the Red Sox. The Red Sox were caught illegally stealing signs in 2017, and promised Major League Baseball that it wouldn’t happen again.
The Yankees were also accused of illegally uses electronic devices during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. This infraction cost the Yankees a $10,000 fine.
Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts recently denied the sign-stealing accusations against his team.
The Legacy Of The Scandal
In light of arguably the biggest cheating scandal in the history in the long history of Major League Baseball, the league implemented a number of rule changes to try to crack down on sign stealing.
In 2020, the league planned on barring non-uniformed personnel from the clubhouse, video rooms, and turn off live video feeds except for replay and the review monitor. These changes were only proposed after the Houston Astros scandal came to light.
There have been so many changes throughout the history of baseball that it’s hard to count, but it’s hard to find a series of events that have affected the game more than the sign-stealing scandal of the 2017 Houston Astros.