Houston, you have a problem. Okay, so the reference may be a bit dated and overused but there’s no doubt that it will be very difficult for fans of Major League Baseball to ever view the Houston Astros the same way again following the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked America’s pastime these past few months.
What did the Houston Astros do?
In early November 2019, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic published a detailed report of how the Astros developed a technological sign-stealing scheme in 2017. That’s obviously the same year they went on to win to the World Series, the team’s only championship since joining Major League Baseball in 1962.
Gathered from information obtained mainly from former Houston and current Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, who spent portions of three seasons with the Astros, the report revealed that team personnel would watch a monitor between the dugout and clubhouse fed from a camera positioned in center field at Minute Maid Park and relay what pitch was coming to the batter by hitting a trash can, the number of hits indicating what pitch was coming.
While sign-stealing has long been a part of baseball, never had such technologically advanced methods been used. There were also reports circling that certain Astros players, including 2017 American League MVP José Altuve, wore buzzers inside their uniforms and would receive information via a sequence of buzzes. Almost immediately after the article was released, Major League Baseball launched a full investigation.
How were the Astros punished?
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred released the findings of the investigation on January 13 of this year and the punishments were severe, although there are many people that think they weren’t severe enough.
Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the entirety of the 2020 season and were soon after fired by the club. Former assistant GM Brandon Taubman was also suspended for a year. The Astros lost their first-round and second-round picks in the amateur draft for the next two years and were also fined five million dollars, the maximum amount allowed by the league’s constitution. No players were fined or suspended for their respective roles in the scandal but the Astros weren’t the only team affected.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was the bench coach for the Astros during the 2017 season and also led the Red Sox to a World Series title in his first year as manager in 2018, lost his job.
Carlos Beltran, who played his final season as a member of the Astros in 2017, was set to take over as the manager of the New York Mets this upcoming season but never managed one game as he and the Mets agreed to part ways due to his role in the scandal.
Have the Astros become even more hated than the Yankees?
Sports fans can be very forgiving. Ask Ray Lewis. Ask Michael Phelps. Ask Tiger Woods. However, there seems to be one rule that can turn…and subsequently keep…fans from rooting for you, I mean, outside of winning titles all the time: DON’T CHEAT TO WIN!
The New England Patriots are one of the most despised franchises in the world outside of the Northeastern United States, and it’s only partly due to the fact that they’ve won those six Super Bowl titles. Spygate, anyone? DeflateGate, anyone? In the eyes of many sports fans around the world, the Pats are cheaters. And you just don’t cheat to win. It becomes even worse when a cheating scandal results in a world title. So where do the Houston Astros go from here and how will they be viewed by fans?
Astros management and players are certainly hoping that their own fans, the true and faithful fans, will stick by them through this. The reaction in their regular-season home opener against the Angels should tell that story. But what does that first game on the road look like a few days later, a game that just so happens to be in Oakland against Mike Fiers and the A’s? How loud will the boos be in every stadium they visit this season?
What happens when a few Astros (it has to be at least one) make the All-Star Game, a game that’s played this year at Dodger Stadium, home to the same Los Angeles Dodgers that the Astros defeated in the 2017 World Series? How long will the media continue to ask questions about the scandal? Have the Houston Astros become the new villain in Major League Baseball? Have the Astros become the all-new New York Yankees?
Yes, Luhnow and Hinch are gone and Houston made a big move bringing in Dusty Baker to be the new manager. Baker is a well-respected manager and has won everywhere he’s gone…outside of winning the big one anyway. But Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and many other players from that 2017 championship team remain and that’s going to be a big problem for a lot of people.
How do the Houston Astros get past this? Only time will tell and there will be answers coming soon. The Astros’ first spring training game takes place this Saturday against the very team that beat them in the World Series this past October, the Washington Nationals.