In 2019, Mike Fiers, a former pitcher for the Houston Astros, made some disturbing allegations about his former team. He told two journalists from The Athletic that the Astros had been stealing signals from their opponents. And this wasn’t a small operation, either. It had gone on throughout both the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The 2017 season was incredibly important for the Astros—it had given them their first World Series win in their franchise’s history. Was it all invalid? Who had orchestrated it, and what would the consequences be? Beyond that, it also raised questions about the MLB’s rules regarding these things, and how they should evolve and change in the future. So, how did the Houston Astros cheat?
What Exactly is Sign-Stealing?
Fiers accused the Astros of sign-stealing—but technically, that’s not actually against MLB rules. While it could certainly be called bad sportsmanship, the act of observing the signs relayed to the opposing pitcher by the catcher is legal. However, in the case of the Houston Astros, one element made it illegal. They used a mechanical device to relay those signs to the batter. That’s explicitly against MLB rules.
The Houston Astros got pitcher Mike Fiers his first championship ring—but it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows between them. The Astros had left him off the roster that postseason, so he wasn’t able to actually participate in the playoffs at all. Regardless, Fiers stunned the sports world in 2019 when he alleged that his former team had used technology to steal signals from opposing teams. While there had been whispers that the Astros had cheated, no one had come forward—until Fiers broke his silence.
How Did the Astros Steal Signs?
The way that the Astros stole signs was a strange mixture of both sophisticated and primitive methods. First, they used a video camera to record the catcher’s signals and would watch from a feed just behind the dugout. That was the sophisticated part. Then, they’d transmit the signals to the hitter by banging on a trashcan. It’s so simple, it’s almost hilarious. And yet, it won them a title.
What Will Happen to the Astros After the Cheating Scandal?
When Fiers left the Astros for the Detroit Tigers, he warned his new teammates about his former team’s bad habits. However, it wasn’t until he came forward in The Athletic that there was an official reckoning for those responsible for the sign-stealing on the Astros team. The MLB got involved, starting their official investigation in November 2019.
On January 13, 2020, Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred announced the investigation found that the Astros had illegally stolen signals throughout 2017 and 2018. They were given a $5 million fine, and their first- and second-round draft picks for 2020 and 2021 were revoked. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a year by MLB, and later fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.
No players were disciplined, leaving an interesting door open for other players interested in exposing instances of cheating in a game that has largely been subject to what the New York Times called a “code of silence.” There are also the rules against the use of mechanical or technological devices for signal stealing, which may see some amendment now that the hammer has come down on the Astros. Either way, it’s clear that the Astros cheating scandal will have a long-lasting effect on major league baseball.