The Astros’ cheating scandal


Zach Kaplan, iNews junior editor-in-chief

A new scandal has rocked the baseball world. We’ve seen investigations involving all-time greats such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds, but those pale in comparison to this one. 

This scandal involves the 2017 world champion Houston Astros, and while it stemmed from one singular allegation, it’s had a ripple effect.

It all began on November 12th, weeks after the Astros fell to the Nationals in the 2019 World Series, when Mike Fiers, a pitcher for Houston in 2017 and who now pitches for the Oakland Athletics, told the Athletic that the Astros used an outfield camera, TV, and system of noises to steal pitching signs relayed by the opposing catcher. 

“They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win,” Fiers told Ken Rosenthal, an MLB network insider. 

The Athletic, in this report, described the system as elaborate and specific. According to the report, this was how the system worked:

There was a feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs and was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway. When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming.”

This YouTube video, published around the time of Fiers making his allegations, is proof of the banging system. As seen in the video, you can hear audible thuds and bangs coming from some place when there is a curveball or offspeed pitch and no sound when there’s a fastball, just as The Athletic suggested. 

In 2018, Jeff Passan, an insider for ESPN, wrote that two MLB players confirmed the reports and said they witnessed Astros players hitting a garbage can as a way to cheat. 

After Fiers’ report, more and more people began coming forward as well. The Dodgers organization came forward with suspicions that the Astros were stealing signs prior to the 2017 World Series. Sean Doolittle, the Nationals’ closer, said he “had his guard up” regarding sign stealing in the 2019 World Series. 

Rob Manfred, the commissioner of the league, said that the league would be conducting an investigation roughly a week after Fiers’ report.

Jeff Passan wrote on January 7th, around a week before the results of the investigation were officially announced, that the MLB’s decisions were “whom to discipline and how harshly to do so.” This article made it clear that the Astros were confirmed to have used this sign-stealing system. 

And then, it seemed to have been forgotten about, until January 13th, when MLB released the final punishment in the form of a bombshell. The report, which was nine pages long, laid out the “factual findings” of the investigation, including the rules violations by Houston in the 2017 season and in subsequent seasons and the “culpability of Astros players and employees.” Manfred goes on to mention people in particular, such as Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, field manager A.J. Hinch, then-bench coach and former Red Sox manager Alex Cora, former Assistant GM Brandon Taubman, and Astros president Jim Crane. 

His punishment for Hinch and Luhnow were suspension without pay for the entire year, and for the team, the Astros lost their first and second round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, and were fined $5 million, which is the highest allowable fine under the MLB Constitution. 

Following the punishment, owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow, which, according to Sports Illustrated, was Crane’s “only option.” 

In the following days, Alex Cora was let go as manager for the Red Sox solely because of his involvement in this case, even though he led the Red Sox to a World Series win in his first year managing. 

Carlos Beltran, then-outfielder and the Mets’ new manager, was also mentioned in the report to have been one of a “group of players” who “discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter.” Beltran was cleared of any discipline, yet stepped down from his position as Mets manager not having managed any games. 

But the plot thickens. Even as all of the characters in the report stepped down or were fired, one thought remains unsolved. 

A private and since-deleted Twitter account that claimed to be Beltran’s niece made a lot of allegations that could have truth to them. Firstly, the owner of the account, whether it was Beltran’s niece or not, was the subject of many rumors on Wednesday after she tweeted, “My tio Carlos (Beltran) is stepping down as Mets manager,” something that turned out to be true. This was picked up by former MLB pitcher-turned-baseball-writer Dallas Braden, who tweeted it out. 

This account also was discovered to have said that Beltran would be manager four days before he announced his hiring. 

This point being, this since-deleted Twitter account is 2 for 2 on her statements, and these correct claims don’t just happen because of luck. After Beltran stepped down, she threw two of Houston’s best players under the bus. 

She tweeted that second baseman Jose Altuve and third baseman Alex Bregman “wore devices that buzzed on inside right shoulder from (the) hallway video guy.”

Granted, this is just speculation, but it is an interesting possible twist. 

These screenshots surfaced thanks to tweets by a content creator known as Jomboy, who says that her claims “match up with what (he’s) been told from about (five) different parties.” 

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer joined in on the speculation, adding that he’s “heard this from multiple parties, too.” 

The main reason that, if true, could be important is that these buzzers may have something to do with Altuve’s home run in the 2019 ALCS that sent the Astros to the World Series.

In the footage of the home run, Altuve held his jersey tight to prevent his teammates from ripping it off, something that some players do. 

“I’m too shy.” Altuve said as reasoning for why he kept his jersey together. Both are valid reasons, but people in the baseball world are speculating that if Altuve let his teammates rip his shirt off it would expose the buzzers. 

A Yankees fan account by the name of @TheYankeeJungle expressed their suspicion about the whole Altuve home run being legit and all. They wrote on a photo of Altuve’s swing that ended the game:

“Since it’s confirmed that the Houston Astros cheated, let’s take a look at Jose Altuve’s walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman in game 6 of the ALCS. Here he is mid-swing, all the way up in the box against a guy who throws 100+ mph. Seems a little suspicious.”

Now, this is all speculation and conjecture, but still may have some truth to it. Whether that account is Carlos Beltran’s niece or not remains to be seen, despite ESPN’s Marly Rivera saying the account doesn’t belong to a member of Beltran’s niece. 

Whether MLB finds that the Astros did use these supposed buzzers or not remains to be seen, but still the main takeaway here is what’s already happened. Rob Manfred’s findings and punishment show that he’s willing to stand up against wrongdoing and sends a message to teams across the league that cheating is not allowed, no matter what tools teams have that can be used to their advantage.