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Baseball, more than any other sport, abides by unwritten rules. Don’t cross the pitcher’s mound. Avoid showing anyone up with bat flips. The list goes on and on. That reality is part of what made the Houston Astros brazen sign-stealing so shocking. At least one man wasn’t surprised by the news, however: Joe Girardi.

While he recently joined the Philadelphia Phillies, Girardi had his share of battles with the Astros when he was managing the New York Yankees. During those games, he had a suspicion that something shady was taking place.

The Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal

Sign-stealing occupies a bit of a moral gray area in baseball. While there’s no rule against the practice, using external mechanisms to gain an advantage—the 1951 New York Giants, for example, used a telescope to see the opposing catchers signals—are generally considered cheating. It’s one thing to figure out a team’s tendencies, but it’s different from actively using technology to see something that the players on the field could not. The Houston Astros, however, were apparently taking things to the next level.

In 2017, the Astros won the American League West and eventually defeated the Dodgers in the World Series. Los Angeles, however, suspected that something strange had taken place; in November 2019, those details came to light.

The Athletic published an article detailing how the Astros had reportedly been stealing signs using a camera in center field that would provide a view of the opposing catcher’s signs. A video feed was sent from that camera to the clubhouse tunnel; a staffer then bang on a trash can to alert batters that a certain pitch was coming. Major League Baseball has since launched an investigation and is still speaking to current and former members of the Astros organization.

Joe Girardi wasn’t surprised that Houston was up to something

During their run to the 2017 World Series title, the Houston Astros defeated the Joe Girardi’s Yankees. After the series, New York declined to renew the manager’s contract. Girardi has since taken over the Philadelphia Phillies, but he hasn’t forgotten that fateful series.

Speaking at Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, Girardi revealed that he “wasn’t shocked” to learn the Astros were stealing signs. “We had put in a lot of things to try to combat certain things,” the manager explained. “You know, word gets around.”

“That’s a suspicion of mine every ballpark that you go to,” Girardi continued. “Wherever you go you worry about people trying to steal your signs, changing signs over and over, having mechanisms where the catcher doesn’t have to worry about running to the mound. We went through other things in 2017 and we tried to guard against it and to do certain things.”

How would Joe Girardi combat sign-stealing?

As a former catcher, Joe Girardi understands that some sign-stealing is part of baseball. There’s nothing wrong, for example, with figuring out a third-base coach’s steal sign or noticing that a pitcher tips his curveball. Using technology, however, is crossing a line.

The solution, though, might be fighting fire with fire. Girardi has previously suggested using earpieces, not unlike how NFL quarterbacks have a radio in their helmets, to allow players and coaches to communicate. “Look at people today. When do they not have headphones?” he said.

Technology, however, can’t change human nature. As long as two groups are competing, someone is always going to try to gain an advantage, whether it’s through stealing signs, corking bats, or using any other underhanded tactics.