At the end of the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the Houston Astros were on top of the sports world. Things now, however, are a bit different. Not only do we know that the club stole signs en route to their first World Series title, but Major League Baseball has lowered the boom, hitting the Astros with a hefty punishment.
Not every baseball fan feels that justice has been served, though. In fact, many are particularly unhappy with one specific aspect of the Houston Astros’ punishment.
The Houston Astros’ punishment for stealing signs
As initially reported by The Athletic, the Houston Astros used a camera in center field to observe the opposing catcher’s signs. Those signals were deciphered in the replay room and used to alert the batter about potential offspeed pitches.
Major League Baseball investigated the report and confirmed that the club had, in fact, cheated on their run to the World Series title. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch received one-year suspensions and were promptly fired; the Astros were also docked draft picks and fined $5 million.
The punishment also had ripple effects beyond Texas. Alex Cora, who was the Astros bench coach at the time and the current Red Sox manager, lost his job; between his role in Houston and Boston’s own sign-stealing scandal, he likely would receive a lengthy suspension. Carlos Beltran, who was a Houston player during the 2017 season, also resigned from his post as New York Mets manager before taking charge of a single game.
Baseball fans want the Astros players punished, too
While the Houston Astros organization, Luhnow, and Hinch were all punished by Major League Baseball, no players were penalized for their role in the sign-stealing scandal. Most fans, it seems, aren’t happy about that reality.
Global Strategy Group recently conducted a survey for ESPN, asking sports fans about the scandal. 1,010 adults, 810 of which identity as Major League Baseball fans, responded.
According to the survey, 58% of the fans in question believe that Major League Baseball should have punished the Houston Astros players. Most—72% of adults and 76% of MLB fans—would also support the league “taking additional steps to punish players who were involved in sign-stealing.” More than half of the survey group’s baseball fans also said the Astros and Red Sox should be stripped of their World Series titles.
Why did the players get off scot-free?
Despite concluding that the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scheme was “player-driven,” Major League Baseball didn’t punish any players. While that might seem unsatisfying, it makes sense from a practical perspective.
Logistically, it’s far simpler to punish a few people than to assign guilt to an entire roster. To borrow a phrase from the NCAA, Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were responsible for maintaining “institutional control;” they didn’t do so. Trying to punish individual players, however, is much messier. Rightly or wrongly, the Major League Baseball Players Association would fight any decision tooth and nail. At the end of the day, the organization, rather than the players in uniform, had to take the fall.
The Houston Astros might have escaped formal punishment, but they didn’t get off completely scot-free. If nothing else, they’ve been judged by the court of public opinion.