Bang Bang, You’re Out: Houston Astros Hammered by MLB over Sign Stealing Scandal


Former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch was subsequently fired for his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. Photo courtesy David Zalubowski/AP

Kyle DeSantis

Anyone who has played baseball knows the feeling of being up at bat and having to accurately predict the pitch in order to make contact and get on base. Let’s say the pitcher throws a 95 mph fastball. From its release, the pitch takes around 450 milliseconds to get to the plate (Source: NPR). It also takes the average MLB batter 150 milliseconds to position their bats. Do the math and you learn just how little time batters have to decide whether or not the pitch is good enough to hit and react. But, what if you knew what kind of pitch was coming? Still, you’d have to quickly react to the location of the pitch, but your job just got easier.

Last November, an article was published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic titled, “The Astros Stole Signs Electronically in 2017” — part of a much broader issue for Major League Baseball. In the article, former Houston Astros and current Oakland Athletics pitcher, Mike Fiers, talked about the issue, allegedly confirming the Astros’ scheme using a camera in center-field fixated on the opposing catcher’s signs, a monitor placed on a wall just steps from Houston’s dugout at Minute Maid Park, and a trash can upon which the players or team employees would bang to indicate that a certain type of pitch (usually off-speed according to the article) was being thrown.

Shortly after the article was released, Major League Baseball began a widespread investigation that included carefully examining 76,000 emails and conducting sixty-eight witness interviews. Two months later, on January 13, 2020, the MLB released its nine-page report compiled by Bryan Seeley and Moira Weinberg of the Department of Investigations, broken up into three categories:
I. Rules Violations in the 2017 Season
II. Rules Violations in Subsequent Seasons
III. Culpability of Astros Players and Employees for Rules Violations.

Here is a quick summary of each of the three parts:
Section I talked about the Astros utilizing a live monitor from the centerfield camera in order to decode and transmit opposing teams’ signs. Later on, it is alleged that a group of players, including Carlos Beltrán, reportedly met to discuss ways to improve the system. Houston bench coach Alex Cora, allegedly arranged for a video technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera outside of the Astros’ dugout. One or more players watched the live monitor, and after decoding the sign, would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch to the batter. The banging scheme was exclusively player-driven, with the exception of Cora. Non-player staff – including individuals in the video replay review room – had no involvement.

Section II followed Houston in the following seasons, during which the Astros relocated their review system to a location much closer to the dugout. While the investigation found that the trash can banging system wasn’t used throughout 2018, the Astros’ replay review staff continued, at least for part of the year, reportedly to decode signs using the live center field camera, transmitting them to the dugout. However, at some point during the season, the Astros purportedly stopped using the system because certain players no longer believed that the practice worked.

Section III talked about the violations supposedly committed by the Astros players and employees. While the Astros players will not be censured for participation in any sign stealing, others in higher positions such as GM, Jeff Luhnow and Manager, AJ Hinch were closely investigated (see measures taken below). Alex Cora, was investigated for his time as a coach with the Astros, for being involved in both the trash can banging and the video room schemes, would also face censure – and would later part ways with the Boston Red Sox. Astros owner Jim Crane has stated, “We will not have this again on my watch” and claims to have been unaware of the violations.

  • Now that all of the investigation has concluded, the following penalties, fines and punishments have been handed down. They include:
  • Astros $5 million fine
  • Astros forfeiture of their first and second-round picks in the 2020, 2021 drafts
  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow, manager A. J. Hinch suspended for the entire 2020 season for failing to prevent the violations (both were later fired by Jim Crane)
  • Alex Cora mutually parted ways with the Boston Red Sox organization, but is still currently being investigated about the 2018 Red Sox allegations
  • Carlos Beltrán, mutually parted ways with the Mets

With the 2020 MLB season approaching, and at least the Astros and Mets looking for replacements, has the MLB landscape been forever changed? The scandal is essentially over but can Spring Training come soon enough?