I have thought for years that stealing signs is part of baseball’s charm. Players on the field seek to pilfer signals the catcher gives to the pitcher as well as the signals that come to the hitter from the third-base coach.
However, the art of signal stealing has its limits, according to Major League Baseball, which had leveled season-long suspensions to the field manager and the general manager of the Houston Astros, who won the 2017 World Series. The Astro ownership, though, went a step further: the two men suspended got fired; they’re gone.
So what’s the future of this scandal? It’s not over, more than likely.
I was a bit baffled by all the hubbub over the Astros’ cheating scandal. As I said, my sense for many years has been that signal theft is part of the Grand Old Game. I sought the counsel of a gentleman — a former colleague of mine — who knows the game well. He answered in an e-mail to explain it to me. Here is what he said:
It was done via technology. A camera was set up in centerfield directed at the catcher. There was a monitor in a video room next to the Astros dugout and the signal was seen and relayed through claps, whistles or banging on a trash can to the batter. This is much different than the gamesmanship that has gone on for decades of players trying to decipher signals while on the field. In other words, a runner gets on 2nd base, can see the signals and somehow relays that to the batter, or someone in the opposing dugout has figured out the third base coach’s signals.
In 2017, there was some signal-stealing via technology because of the added use of cameras for replay reviews. Commissioner Rob Manfred sent out a harsh memo telling teams to stop or there would be reprisals if they didn’t. The Astros arrogantly continued to do so.
The Red Sox are also about to get nailed for doing something similar. Alex Cora is the manager. He was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017 and reportedly came up with the system. He may be looking at a lifetime ban.
OK, it’s clear to me now.
The question remains: Should Major League Baseball rescind the World Series title the Astros won? I would argue “no!” I am not sure it can be proven that the cheating was the difference between winning and losing the Series. Absent proof, then the Astros should keep the title as baseball champs.
And if the commissioner drops the hammer on Alex Cora and bans him for life, then a lifetime ban ought to have the weight of … a lifetime ban.
What’s more, my hope is that this mess doesn’t deter players from stealing signs on the field the way they have done since the time they threw out the very first pitch. Hey, it’s part of the game!