There was a point during Major League Baseball’s winter meetings when it seemed all was well with the game. Free agents were signing mega deals and the general consensus was everyone was happy, everyone was getting rich, everything was headed in the right direction.
What we couldn’t see, of course, was the rumbling along the game’s fault line, it’s ongoing investigation into the allegations the Astros circumvented rules by stealing signs during their 2017 championship season.
MLB’s promise to provide a full investigation is continuing. And in the process, more information is being uncovered about the scope of the problem and who else might be involved.
On Tuesday, The Athletic, the first to uncover the story about the Astros, sent another flare sailing over the horizon by reporting the Red Sox used their video replay room to steal signs during their 2018 championship season.
Three anonymous sources associated with that team told the website players would slip into the replay room to study opponent’s signs. And once they were decrypted, they’d relay the information to their dugout.
From there, someone in the dugout would send a sign to a baserunner, who in turn would communicate what pitch was coming by moving their body in a specific way.
If this is true, and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t, it’s a clear sign cheating has become an epidemic problem in the game.
And if you want a common thread between the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox, look no further than Boston manager Alex Cora, who served as Houston’s bench coach before the Red Sox hired him.
“We were recently made aware of allegations suggesting the inappropriate use of our video replay room,” the Red Sox said in a statement to The Athletic. “We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with MLB as they investigate the matter.”
The Athletic said indications are the surreptitious use of the replay room to steal signs was not used during the Red Sox run to the World Series title. But that’s only because MLB had suspicions teams were already cheating and had in-person monitors positioned in all video replay rooms during the postseason.
“The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017, memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room,” MLB said in its statement. “Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter.”
While the sport takes up this new matter, it’s very close to coming to a decision about the Astros. ESPN reported MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is expected to decide on penalties in the case with the next two weeks.
If you recall, the Astros have been accused of using their own sophisticated system to relay pitches to hitters. A center-field camera and a video screen positioned near the dugout would reveal the type of pitch and then someone in the dugout would bang on a garbage can to tell the batter what to expect.
“It was like having an open-book test and the open book is right there next to you and the teacher says, ‘Don’t look at the book,’” one former player told The Athletic. “Whatever is available to teams, they’re going to take advantage of it. Major League Baseball knows that. If you have this technology that’s available where you have 20 cameras on the field, cameras that can look at signs, I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see: Oh, if I’m in the video room and I see the guy’s signs, you’re basically playing the same game now that was played when I first came into the league and there was a guy on second base. You’re trying to break the code.”
It’s expected any penalties handed to the Astros will involve employees of the team – coaches, front office staff – as opposed to any players who took advantage of the scheme. It’s assumed manager A.J Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow could be suspended. The team might also face a large fine and the loss of future draft picks.
If MLB finds fault in the actions of the Astros and Red Sox, if it determines a premediated desire to skirt rules, the sport must come down hard and impose fines, suspensions and penalty that would act as a deterrent in the future.
The last thing MLB needs is for their fans to feel the outcome of games, particularly the result of a postseason series, was influenced in any way by an illegal act.