Major League Baseball’s Reaction to World Series Cheating


John Sharbaugh

Major League Baseball(MLB) started to issue punishments for the Houston Astros’ illegal sign-stealing during their 2017 World Series winning season. Sign stealing is decoding the gestures the opposing team uses to conceal their actions. The most common signs to steal are the ones the pitcher and catcher use to understand whether a fastball or offspeed pitch will be thrown. Usually, sign-stealing in professional baseball is not illegal, even if it is normally frowned upon. For players this is a huge competitive edge. When the batter only has a fraction of a second to decide whether to swing or not, they will guess which pitch is coming based on the pitch count. Since there can be a ten mile per hour difference or more between different pitches, knowing what pitch is coming allows the batter to only focus on whether the pitch is hittable or not. 

However, this is done using only human observation. The Houston Astros are being punished for stealing signs digitally. They used cameras located in center field which then transmitted the video feed into the dugout. They then created their own code, such as hitting a garbage bin, to inform the hitter of the pitch. In recent developments, star Astros players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman are being accused of wearing devices under their jerseys that buzzed to alert them of the incoming pitch. 

On January 13, 2020, MLB punished the entire organization. Manager A.J. Hinch and President of Baseball Operations, Jeff Luhnow were both suspended for this season. Additionally, the team was fined $5 million and had four upcoming draft picks taken away. In an effort to prevent any further controversy with the team, Astros’ owner Jim Crane fired both of them following this announcement. 

During the 2017 season, Alex Cora was the bench coach for the Astros. He was then hired by the Boston Red Sox the following year as their manager. His role was much more involved then Hinch’s, who still allowed the cheating to occur but did not facilitate any of it. Cora was the one who organized the process and helped relay the information. The investigation into his involvement in the 2017 scandal as well as any possible cheating with the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2018, is still ongoing. Still, Boston and him agreed to part ways, effectively firing him from his position leading the team. The New York Mets’ new manager Carlos Beltran, who was a player on that World Series winning Astros team, has also been fired for his involvement with the cheating. 

Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred still are addressing this degradation to the game of baseball. Investigation will continue and more punishments will be given. Without a complete picture of the extent of the cheating, it is difficult to speculate how severe they will be.