In baseball, “caught stealing” is supposed to signify a catcher throwing out a baserunner. But the term took on a different meaning on Monday when Major League Baseball issued its report on the Houston Astros sign-stealing scheme.
MLB concluded that the Astros used electronic means to steal signs from catchers to pitchers and tipped off Houston batters by banging on a trash can to signify what kind of pitch to expect. While the league couldn’t conclude if the cheating improved the chances for an Astros team that won the World Series while the deception was going on, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred rightfully wrote that “the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game.”
In an era when leagues often seem to respond to on- and off-field incidents with a brush back, MLB’s response was closer to a beaning, albeit one that didn’t void the team’s World Series victory. It did, however, fine the club a maximum allowable $5 million, and stripped it of its next two first- and second-round draft picks. Even further, MLB suspended Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch, who were both then summarily fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. “I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I’m going beyond MLB’s penalty,” Crane said.
The consequences do not stop with the Astros. Alex Cora, the manager of the Boston Red Sox, was fired on Tuesday. He was in on the cheating while working as the Astros bench coach. (Also implicated was former Astros player Carlos Beltran, who was named New York Mets manager during this offseason.) In addition, the Red Sox are being investigated for sign-stealing during Cora’s first year as manager, when the team won the World Series.
Beltran’s teammates may not face official consequences. But their names are stained as cheaters, and their title is tainted. Sure, stealing signs is an old baseball art. But it was often done by cunning runners on second base, not by cameras monitored in the team’s video replay room.
Opening Day is just months away. Closing this sad chapter in the national pastime may not be complete by then, but it’s good to know that the umpires aren’t the only ones trying to enforce fair play, even if it’s belated.