Of all the sounds that roar to life inside of a sold-out baseball stadium, a bat hitting a trash can does not seem like it would be the most important one. In the case of the Houston Astros organization, however, this seems to be exactly the case.
During the 2017 regular season and postseason, the Astros used audio cues such as banging on trash cans to steal signs from opposing teams, making opposing teams’ pitches easier to hit. These strategies were used in the Astros’ home stadium, Minute Maid Park, on a regular basis in 2017, according to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic.
In case anyone has forgotten, let it be known: The Astros won the World Series in 2017.
Obviously, this scandal impacts Major League Baseball on a scale rarely seen. Its ripples will be felt in ways that haven’t occurred since the steroid scandals of the 2000s or the 1994 player strike. But what exactly will change? What should change, and how? The scandal is likely to break certain parts of baseball, and there should be an order behind the chaos that could ensue, particularly concerning two major fallouts that could mold the game for years to come:
Players should be reprimanded
Major League Baseball has already punished the Astros officials that organized the scandal via suspensions of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, as well as the stripping of draft picks and millions of dollars from the team itself, as summarized by the Houston Chronicle. The players involved, however, have not faced any consequences.
In the eyes of both fans and other players who were negatively impacted by the scandal, this is ridiculous. While the managers were the ones who organized the technology and system itself, it was the players who consented to cheating and used it for their own personal benefit.
“I’d like my career numbers against Altuve, Springer and Correa erased from the record books. Seriously though, it’s bad. Can they do that?” Phil Hughes, a former pitcher who faced the Astros during this season, said in a tweet following the surfacing of evidence against Houston.
This quote, while humorous, reminds the fanbase and media watching of a crucial repercussion from this scandal: careers have been changed. Players were cut, traded and even sent down to the minors for their lackluster performances against the Astros.
These players put themselves above the rules for personal gain, and as a result, negatively impacted their peers’ lives and careers. This should not be forgotten or forgiven. As difficult as it may be, MLB must punish at least some of the players complicit in this scandal.
Electronics must be regulated harshly
In an age of analytics where new statistics and tracking devices come out of the baseball woodwork on an increasingly regular basis, it is no surprise that electronics are becoming commonplace in MLB dugouts. The prevalence of digital information comes with a risk, however, and the risk may need to be more properly assessed by MLB’s officials.
The Astros obtained their signs using an outfield camera zoomed in on home plate, then sent the signs that the catcher gave the pitcher to their home dugout via the video replay room, according to The Athletic.
This system relies on a dugout not placed under strict supervision, as well as a large group of complicit players and employees working with electronics to relay signs at such a high speed. Why has technology as simple as this not been monitored before?
The Boston Red Sox, one of the teams affected by the Astros’ cheating, broke these rules themselves in 2017 be using a smartwatch to steal signs with a similar video system, according to the New York Times. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred warned that future violations by teams would warrant harsh punishments, and yet no further actions of surveillance were taken.
These occurrences all point to one decision: dugouts and press boxes should be closely watched to avoid cheating. With tech and communication as prevalent in baseball as they are, their abuse must be contained, and hopefully prevented, at all costs.
With the reverberations of this scandal still incomplete, it isn’t fair to criticize MLB for punishments yet to be issued, but it is clear that fans and players alike have certain expectations of the league concerning these problems. As the scandal progresses, one can only hope that those responsible for tainting America’s pastime are held accountable.
Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.