Monday, January 20, 2020


I know a lot of readers log out the minute they see “baseball” in one of my posts, but I do feel the recent Houston Astros scandal deserves some mention.

For several years the Houston Astros were stealing their opponents signs and relaying them to their hitters. Knowing what pitch is coming gives the batter a big advantage. The Astros won the World Series a few years ago while employing this scam and almost won again last year. The bench coach of the Astros at the time then became the manager of the Boston Red Sox and they won the World Series. Was this sign stealing the reason both teams won? No. Not entirely. But it sure helped.

First let me say, both the Astros and Red Sox won their World Series championships against the Dodgers. And Dodger fans are now claiming they were robbed and deserve to have the titles given to them. A) It’s not going to happen, and B) the Dodgers lost because of poor managerial decisions and big star players choking and not delivering. If Clayton Kershaw pitched like a Cy Young pitcher, if Cody Bellinger hit like an MVP, if Corey Seagar hit at all, if manager Dave Roberts didn’t bungle match-ups and substitutions the Bums might have won even if they told their opponents what pitch was coming.

So why is this sign stealing affair such a big deal? Simply this: The one thing baseball can not compromise is the integrity of the game and the perception that the game is not rigged. Period. That’s why everyone even remotely involved in the 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal were banned for life. That’s why Pete Rose will never be in the Hall of Fame. That’s why steroid use is so prohibited. If Major League Baseball loses its credibility it’s dead. Everything else – overshifting, an over-reliance of statistical data, bad umpiring, increasing length of the games, inflated ticket prices, the juiced ball (every team deals with that equally), inequities in arbitration and free agent signing, the “Wave” -- all these the game can handle. But the minute the fans think MLB is as fake as TV wrestling you can turn off the stadium lights.

Here’s what the Astros did. They had a monitor in the corner of the dugout and a camera from centerfield trained on home plate so it could see the catchers’ signs. It’s the angle you see most of the time when watching a game. They would decode the catcher’s sign (players are sophisticated enough to do that) and then a player would relay what sign was coming by banging on a trashcan. Nothing meant a fastball, one bang meant a breaking ball, two meant a change up. Very high tech.

The end result: The Astros General Manager and Manager were suspended for a year, the team loses its top draft picks for the next two years, and they were fined $5 million (the highest penalty baseball could issue). Supposedly, this was a player scheme, but the bench coach knew about it and maybe even was the one who concocted it. And the manager certainly knew.   He could have said "We don't do that" but didn't. 

Here’s the fall out: The Astros fired their GM and manager. That bench coach became the manager of the Red Sox and he too was fired. Both managers – A.J. Hinch of Houston and Alex Cora of Boston – were rising managerial stars. Both were young, popular with players, and the media. I’ll be interested to see whether they ever get another managerial job or at least how many years go by before this scandal blows over. Mark McGwire, who took steroids to inflate his home run total became a hitting coach in later years. (Think about that.)

Some thoughts: MLB has become so competitive and cutthroat that every tiny edge is exploited. Analytics now drive the game. Teams are crunching numbers and doing anything they can to gain even the tiniest advantage. Payroll numbers are so high, and team profits are so high that the stakes have been raised to an insane amount.  Still, does that justify cheating?  I say no.

And interestingly, so do the players.

You'll notice that players weren't punished by MLB.  The Players Union would have to sign-off.  At first I thought the union would take a hands-off stance.  But I've seen numerous players tweet their disgust with the cheating players.  To me this is unprecedented.  Will Astro players be disciplined?  I don't know.  They certainly should.  And I suspect this will get ugly as more details are revealed.

And trust me, players have a long memory.  Those few players who were scabs during the last strike were never ever accepted by their teammates.  Brendan Donnelly was a key pitcher for the Angels in 2002 when they won the World Series and yet his teammates did not vote him a full World Series share.  

And finally, how in the hell did they think they would get away with it? Especially today when players move from team to team like musical chairs. How long before the Astros traded a player to another team and he spilled the beans? Even Rudy Giuliani might have said this plan was folly.

The investigation continues from what I understand and more shenanigans from more teams might be uncovered. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Personally, I long for the days when baseball was a simpler game. We’ve gone from BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY to BANG THE TRASHCAN LOUDLY.


15-Seconds said...

Time for baseball to modernize (blasphemy, I know). You know how NFL quarterbacks receive plays via radio in their helmets? Baseball should give the pitcher, catcher, (and middle infielders perhaps) ear pieces -- send the pitch electronically from the bench. Encrypt them so teams can't intercept them.

No more staring into the catcher looking for signs, no more pitchers shaking off signs, no more wasting time changing signs, no more walks to the mound to complain why the catcher was crossed up. The average games would be shortened by 20 minutes.

I'll hang up and listen.

Anonymous said...

That was a nice line at the end, is that called a button in sitcom writing? In the last 30 years, any sports scandal involving money, performance enhancement, cheating for an edge, stupid behaviour on the field always circles around and ends up at one entity - ESPN.

Unknown said...

I'm thinking about what mocking songs teams can play between innings when playing the Astros. Todd Rundgren's ''Bang the Drum'' comes to mind!

Honest Ed said...

Pardon my ignorance, but I'm not a baseball fan and hadn't heard of this until now, but there are resonances with some sporting scandals over here in the UK, so I'll ask...

It sounds, from what Ken wrote, like they didn't actually do much wrong. They cracked the signals given to pitchers telling them what kind of ball to throw and communicated that to the batters? If depends on how they figured out those signals, but if they did it just by patiently observing the other team's signals and working them out, I'm not seeing what they've done wrong? Certainly not cheating, possibly unsporting and even then I'm not so sure. If they used some kind of subterfuge, like sticking camera where they ain't supposed to be or bribery or whatever, then of course it's cheating. But is that what happened?

Over here, we recently had a minor scandal in football/soccer, when it emerged that a manager sent people to watch opponents training, working on tactics, set pieces, etc, but when it blew up, the Argentinian manager - who has a rep for being unconventional anyway - said it was routine everywhere he'd worked, apologised and promised not to do it again. And that was the end of it.

Glenn said...

I still can't figure this out... was it the filming or the trashcan banging that is a no-no? Or both?

I always thought sign stealing was part of baseball. What part exactly is frowned upon?

As for the 'cheating' aspect of it, it's sad how prevelant this has become across all sports. I live in Boston, so right now we have the Red Sox pulling shenanigans and the Patriots are always up to something shifty. Then there was the referee scandal in the NBA. What is the big scandal going to be in the NHL?

Anonymous said...

" Mark McGwire, who took steroids to inflate his home run total became a hitting coach in later years. (Think about that.)"

And yet ESPN has Alex Rodriguez, suspended by MLB for 211 games for using performance-enhancing drugs, as an analyst on ESPN games. That's the best they could find? Think about that.


Anonymous said...

Not a baseball fan, but I find it hard to see this as 'cheating'. The players watched the players on the other team, and figured out what they were planning to do. They didn't steal a codebook, they didn't have hidden mikes, they just looked at the guy giving signals and worked out what the signals meant - and then used their own signals to pass on that information. Which bit of this is cheating?

In an American football game, if you heard the quarterback shout a series of numbers and do X, then later on heard him shout the same numbers and realised, "Hey, he's going to do X!", would that be cheating?

kent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ChipO said...

Fearless Leader,
Would love a simple explanation of signs.
The antics of the manager, both base coaches and the catcher's fingers … is all that really just to say Fast, Sinker, Curve, Slider? Or, do they get more specific? Fast and low and inside.
And, while you're educating us, wtf is the diff between Sinker, Slider, Curve?

Markus said...

For the record, I'm more likely to (fully) read baseball posts than certain other topics that shall remain unnamed.

Random obs from the cheap chairs over on this side of the pond:

The penalty and fines surprised me. Five million? Is that some sort of deliberate joke? The club probably spends more on postage per year than that. There are sports in the world where cheating of this boldness, magnitude and proportion would get a club stripped of titles and banned for a year or five. Obviously they don't want to piss off the Astros.

The lack of severity in that penalty strikes me as being the same reluctant attitude as in the glacial motion that took baseball so long to establish sanctions against PED use. There is this omnipresent reluctance probably fueled by some sort of stance of trying to ignore the elephant in the room until it's too obvious to ignore, in a helpless effort not to do damage to the sport by keeping the volume low. I remember a few years ago, watching some ESPN when they still had the booth with Jon Miller, Joe Morgan and whatshisname (the guy who got fired after he dropped his pants...). In one of the odd dull moments of a game, they came to the topic of PED use to discuss. As clear as it was how e.g. Miller was critical of it, it was also very obvious how Morgan as a former player was very much uncomfortable even talking about it, basically arguing in code that admitting it exists and discussing it is the bigger problem than PED use itself, because making the issue public is what's actually damaging the sport while PED use in his mind maybe wasn't that big a deal after all. Struck me as odd and very backwards, but I have a feeling this sort of denialist attitude is not exactly uncommon in American sports in general and baseball in particular. When people in all seriousness argue "it's not that bad, everybody does it" or "this should have been handled behind the scenes" you know you have a dramatic problem on your hands big enough to bring down the whole sport. The only way to handle an issue of this magnitude and to reestablish some integrity and trustworthiness is full transparency and truly coming clean, in plain view and fully public. Otherwise you're making the fans turn their backs on you. You need THEIR faith in YOUR sportsmanship for the whole thing to work at all.

Also surprising to me was how long it took until this got discovered. Someone outside the club must have suspected something long before, I would think. What's that noise every time an Astro is at bat? Why is there this guy in the dugout banging on the can? What's with that particular monitor they have there? I can't imagine these things go unnoticed by other teams, players, fans and the media. And Astros employees who participated must have known this is illegal and will blow up as it's just a Very Bad Idea(tm). Why did this become a story only after a former Astros pitcher blew the whistle?

Maybe this is going to result in rulebook clarifications? Admittedly I didn't know exactly how sign stealing is ruled out (Wikipedia to the rescue), but apparently it's not illegal per se, just relaying signs by technical means is a no-go. What's the technical means here - the camera, the relay, or the trash can?

If players would get penalised (and I strongly feel they should), wouldn't this require establishing first which players knew of this, participated, and benefitted? Can we assume the whole clubhouse and roster knew, or would there be a split between offense and defense? After all, this would affect guys including e.g. Verlander, who strikes me as widely beloved and respected. Has anyone of them offered commentary with regard to this recently?

kent said...

I am an ardent Dodger fan but I realize they can't give the title to the boys in blue. For starters, Houston also stole signs during a close ALCS against the New York Yankees. So, if you eliminate Houston, the World Series would have been between the Yankees and the Dodgers and there is no telling who would have won. You simply can't put this Genie back in the bottle.

kent said...

One last note, when the Red Sox we're caught using Apple watches to steal signs a few years ago, the commissioner of baseball put all 30 teams on notice that the use of electronic technology to gain a Competitive Edge would not be tolerated. He warned all 30 teams that there would be severe consequences to using technology in that way. Since Houston used high-tech cameras just steal the signs they knew they were operating outside both the rules and the acceptable traditions of the game. That's why it's cheating.

Markus said...

@Honest Ed (and various others):

Knowing for sure what kind of pitch is coming is so helpful to the batter, you wouldn't believe it. To stick with the football/soccer analogy, imagine a penalty shootout in footy where the goalkeeper knows exactly (not just guesses or anticipates, bot KNOWS) where the player is going to put the ball because your team can read his mind and transmits that knowledge to the goalie by some flashlight or a radio earpiece he is wearing. High left, low right, whichever it is. Some balls will still go in but the goalie will be in the right corner every damn time, and deflect a fair share of shots.

Sign stealing isn't ruled out as such, it's generally par for the course within the realm of "watching the opponents in order to analyze their methods" as many kinds of sports allow it to various degrees. But using devices to transmit the info practically "live" after snooping them out on the spot right there and then is specifically against written law in baseball. The Astros broke those rules, and they knew it's illegal. That's cheating right there.

Steven said...

I laughed at the graphic that went with today's post. As a big baseball fan, I'm surprised I haven't seen it elsewhere.

DwWashburn said...

You mention that MLB needs to keep integrity in the game. The only problem is that their actions show that they are not concerned about it.

I've been a baseball fan since 1968 and I think the most infuriating part of the last thirty years (steroids, sign stealing) is that this cheating was not caught by MLB, it was caught by outside sources. When their hand was forced, MLB stepped in and did their own investigation but they themselves did not find it. The current scandal was detected by the newsletter, the Athletic. Steroids were not taken seriously until Jose Canseco started rumbling after he left.

I worked in the business world for 40 years in various audit capacities. When I was an internal auditor for a large corporation my major job was to uncover anything going on in the field that would injure the company's reputation, efficiency or financial status. Either MLB does not have a department like this or they ignore any findings. They ignored it when their players started looking like Macys' balloons (hell, they put the ostrich-in-chief Bud Selig in the Hall of Fame), they ignored complaints from players when they complained about what they were seeing with the Astros. It took outside sources to make them get off their rump.

So I give MLB absolutely no credit for their "research" in these scandals and their attempt to "bring integrity to the game". They turned their heads to obvious cheating and had to be shamed into even looking into it.

Margo Guryan said...

No one knows baseball like Ken Levine. Go Ken!!

blinky said...

Baseball has gone from Americas Pastime to a niche cable series. Did you know there is now a televised Cornhole Championship?
Older fans go to a baseball game to eat and occasionally notice whats happening on the field. Millennials who go to a game to watch it on their phones between checking social media.
I was joking when I said there should be mandatory celebrations after a good play, a-la football, but the game could use a basic retooling just like a poorly structures screenplay.

blinky said...

Baseball has gone from Americas Pastime to a niche cable series. Did you know there is now a televised Cornhole Championship?
Older fans go to a baseball game to eat and occasionally notice whats happening on the field. Millennials who go to a game to watch it on their phones between checking social media.
I was joking when I said there should be mandatory celebrations after a good play, a-la football, but the game could use a basic retooling just like a poorly structures screenplay.

kent said...

In the 2017 World Series Clayton Kershaw pitched twice at Dodger Stadium, in game 1 and game 7, and was brilliant both times. He pitched in game 5 in Houston, where they were stealing signs, and got hammered.
Does that seem like a coincidence? Kershaw did pitch like a Cy Young pitcher at Dodger Stadium and perhaps would have pitched like a Cy Young pitcher in Houston if the Astros hadn't known what pitch was coming.

Mike Barer said...

To answer one of your commenters, sign stealing is allowed if done with the naked eye. But not with cameras. At least, that is what I have read.

Peter J said...

I noticed you didn't mention the added layer to your post: buzzer-gate. I'm assuming it's because you don't give the rumors much credence, but you've gotta admit the whole Altuve holding his shirt tight while crossing the plate/running in the dugout to change his t-shirt thing is pretty curious.

As a Yankees fan, whose team was also robbed by the cheating, I'm looking forward to seeing the Atros play at Yankees stadium. The booing should hit crescendos only reserved for Trump at a Women's Rights Rally.

Also, in a sport that used to be know for its players self-policing the game...I'm looking for Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Springer to be buzzed the old fashioned way - with pitches high and tight.

ventucky said...

For all of you saying it is not cheating, here is why it is. If a runner is on second bae, cracks the code, and relays it to the batter, it is frowned upon, but clearly part of the game. The cheating is using video tech to send it to the dugout and have people not playing in the game send out the code. That is cheating, because in real time, people not playing on the field are influencing the outcome.

Bob Paris said...

Allow me to illustrate from these two comments that don't understand how this is cheating: "I find it hard to see this as 'cheating'. The players watched the players on the other team, and figured out what they were planning to do." And, "I still can't figure this out... was it the filming or the trashcan banging that is a no-no? Or both? I always thought sign stealing was part of baseball. What part exactly is frowned upon?"

Anything a player sees or hears from or on the field is OK - that is why pitchers and catchers cover their mouths with their gloves when they confer on the mount. But using a camera (non-human) feed to intercept the signs and then relaying this info to players is a no-no and should be an obvious example of cheating. Surprised that this explanation was even required but maybe it is just a sign of the times.

cd1515 said...

15-Seconds, that wouldn’t work because catchers call the pitches, not the people in dugout. Obviously the batter would hear whatever the catcher said.
But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t come up with something else, maybe a touchpad built into his shin guard with a button representing each pitch? And that gets relayed to the pitchers earpiece.

Also not sure Mike Fiers, the former Astro pitcher, is a hero for blowing the whistle.
He didn’t seem to have a problem with the cheating when he was ON the team and benefitting from it.
Why didn’t he speak out then?

ReticentRabbit said...

@Anonymous--the use of the camera is the cheating part. The players didn't just look at the guy giving signals; they used cameras to zoom in and see things that wouldn't have been clear to the naked eye. Stealing signals has been around for awhile, and no one seems upset about that part. It's the use of technology to steal that goes beyond gamemanship.

Ken--a tangential baseball question: do you have any thoughts about MLB's reported plan to contract 42 minor league teams? There's a lot I like better about minor league ball: I can take my family to the game without breaking the bank or driving 100s of miles, the atmosphere is relaxed and familiar, and the players leave it all on the field because they're trying to climb the ladder. I get the economics of contraction, but the reports suggest MLB has been awfully dismissive of the minor leagues, especially dismissive of teams in small towns where the minor league teams are very central to the community. Would love to hear your thoughts whenever you're gearing up for another baseball post.

MattCapp said...

Kershaw DID pitch like Cy Young in the 2017 World Series... when not in Houston having the signs relayed.
Houston's offensive home-road splits are galling that post-season and demonstrate just what kind of advantage this was.

Anonymous said...

Hey not really a huge baseball fan. But I do like the sport here and there
when I have free time. I agree; does not look like cheating.

Tim Ehrhardt said...

You forgot to mention Yu Darvish who probably got legitimately screwed by the sign stealing. It took him a good season and a half to get his head straight from that debacle. As a diehard Cubs fan, I can tell you that he's a very good guy with a great, dry sense of humor.

Anonymous said...

Ask pitchers if they think what the Astros did was cheating.
There is no way to absolutely stop teams from doing that - even encrypted signals can be decoded.
Increase surveillance, sure.
But if you want to deter them to the max - stiff suspensions for any one who gets caught -five years minimum.
Work it out with the Players Association.
A five year suspension will hit anyone right where they live and the cost benefit will shift real quick.
notice that baseball went more than 60 years without a gambling scandal when they banished eight Black Sox players for life.
It took a degenerate gambler at the end of his career to revive the no gambling rule,

NOT RACHEL said...

Dead right, Ken

Buttermilk Sky said...

Is there a rule which specifically forbids stealing (or attempting to steal) signs? Because I think it's been going on since the era of Cy Young. Anyway, this is worlds away from bribing players (1919) or betting on games (Pete Rose). And it's not even in the same galaxy as making death threats against Jackie Robinson or Hank Aaron. I'm not sure using steroids is any different from medical improvements like enhanced nutrition or Tommy John surgery or other features that didn't exist in the nineteenth century when baseball began. In short, it feels like an overpriced ballpark nothingburger.

Comedy Stylings said...

Ken, I think you'll love this. I just discovered an hilarious guy on YouTube who posts videos in which he edits himself into otherwise real news reports where he acts as an eyewitness or victim. He does it so seamlessly, a lot of people, including me, thought the videos were real, especially this one, which has had the most views.

I guess I was slightly disappointed when I learned it's fake, but it's still funny as hell.

J Lee said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a baseball fan, but I find it hard to see this as 'cheating'. The players watched the players on the other team, and figured out what they were planning to do. They didn't steal a codebook, they didn't have hidden mikes, they just looked at the guy giving signals and worked out what the signals meant - and then used their own signals to pass on that information. Which bit of this is cheating?

The key here was they were stealing the signs by looking at the TV monitor set up in their home stadium, and using the home video feed provided at Minute Maid Park. The Astros' home/away hitting stats apparently had an above-average differential for home vs. road games, compared to the normal differential teams have playing on their home field versus playing out of town. If they had simply been stealing signs the old-fashioned way, they would have been able to do it whether or not the game was in Houston or away from home.

As for Giullani, since he's a Yankees fan, he's probably as ticked off as the fans in L.A. -- before the Dodgers possibly got screwed in the 2017 World Series, the Yanks possibly got screwed by the scheme in the 2017 ALCS. It went seven games, and the home team won all seven (which is also why the Astros likely weren't cheating in the 2019 Series against the Nats -- the home teams lost all seven games in this past year's Series, the first time that's ever happened.)

Y. Knott said...

To the folks above:

Using electronic devices to obtain and relay the info is the part that the teams are being punished for.

If the info is obtained 'organically' -- for instance, if everyone in the stadium can see that the pitcher always holds his glove a certain way before throwing a curve -- that's okay. But setting up a whole electronic system to steal signals? Potentially using electronic buzzers taped to the skin so that signals can be relayed to batters? Not allowed. In fact, explicitly not allowed by the baseball rules.

While the Dodgers shouldn't be crowned champions, the Astros should lose their championship status. The 2017 championship should just be left blank.

Mike Bloodworth said...

As a Dodger fan I'm pretty outraged.

KB said...

For those questioning why this was cheating; it's because they decided the signs electronically. That's the big no-no. If a runner at 2nd base can decode the signs and relay it to the batter, then that's one thing. If a pitcher is tipping his pitches and the opposing team picks up on it, that's one thing. Those are accepted methods of gaining an advantage.

It's placing a camera in center field to pick up the signals from the catcher and then relaying them to the batter that's flat out cheating and the teams know this.

KB said...

In the time it took to type my comment, a half dozen others cleared up the same point.

As a Dodgers fan this is frustrating, obviously. That epic game 5 in 2017 may never have been that epic had the Astros not taken advantage of the Dodgers. A lot of "what if's" that really won't change anything. Dodgers won't get the trophy. But Houston should be stripped of it.

It's really a shame. I had respect for that Astros team. A lot of great talent. And now it's all tainted. The Astros will rightfully hear boos at every stadium outside of Houston and probably hear a lot of chin music, as well. I hope every player that's still on the team from 2017 gets asked "what role did you play in the cheating?" in every post game interview until they retire.

Pat Howard said...

Love when you talk baseball. They have to come down hard on the Astros.

YEKIMI said...

Of course every town with a MLB team had the local paper doing a story trying to tie this into their team. The Plain Dealer had a story where one of the teams [can't remember off hand, may have been the Boston Red Sox, Kalamazoo Flying Warthogs, limited memory doesn't help much] but they got in the face of one of the Cleveland Indians and accused them of stealing signs and the Indians player replied "Stealing your signs? I don't even know OUR signs!"

VP81955 said...

To J. Lee:

The Nationals took no chances during the World Series, repeatedly changing signs to confuse the Astros,

Baseball should thank former Angel and Dodger Howie Kendrick for his pivotal go-ahead homer in Game 7.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Bob P.'s unwarrantedly snide comment points out a key flaw in Ken's original post: To a layperson, there doesn't seem to be anything like "cheating" going on here. Learning that there are specific rules against using electronic communications makes the case clear.

-- Damian

Green Luthor said...

Carlos Beltran was hired to manage the Mets in November, but due to his role as an Astros player in this, they've "mutually agreed to part ways". (Which sounds like "creative differences" or "wants to spend more time with their family".) So that's kind of one player punished, except that he wasn't punished as a player, and wasn't punished by the League.

Maybe everyone involved should see if the New England Patriots are hiring. Different sport, of course, but... sounds like they'd fit right in.

15-Seconds said...

CD1515 - Catchers sometimes receive signs from the dugout about what pitch to call. And there is no reason why all pitches can't be called from there. And it is not a matter of hearing words said by the catcher...put a keyboard in the dugout and hit 1 for a high hard one. 2 for a curve. Second key stroke gives location. The batter would not hear it. Trust me...I play Ken's podcast via blue tooth on my hearing aids (of course, I am old -- I am a baseball fan). No one sitting next to me hears what is playing in my ears.

Sean said...

As I understand the matter, it's not about stealing signs it's about electronically stealing signs? Theft, but through use of video. Without the video component there's no infraction?

Seems an unusual line to draw...but baseball's relationship to it's rules has always been somewhat tenuous.

Is it really an integrity issue? That sign stealing can only happen on the field? Weird.


Matt said...

They are now allegations that Jose Altuve and Lance Bergman, the Astro’s best hitters, had buzzers on their shoulders so a person watching the high def camera could instantly contact them. If they ever prove that true they should be banned for life.

sanford said...

From what I read Fiers told both teams he went to after Houston what was going on. Those new team mates didn't say anything.

Tom Reeder said...

For those who don't see why this is cheating, consider this... You're in a poker game with Ken Levine. There's a security camera on the ceiling directly behind your chair. You don't know it, but I'm sitting where I can see the feed from the security camera. I surreptitiously signal Ken what you have in your hand, helping him make decisions about whether to hold 'em or fold 'em.

You're OK with that?

Steve Bailey said...

You wrote, "I know a lot of readers log out the minute they see 'baseball' in one of my posts." For what it's worth, I don't follow sports at all, but I always read your blog entries about sports. You have a way of making baseball insider info as fascinating as sitcom insider info.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Tom R.'s comment does not present an equivalent case.

D McEwan said...

"The one thing baseball can not compromise is the integrity of the game"

Well, I had a good laugh over the concept of "Integrity" in professional sports. That was truly hilarious.

What I like about this unimportant scandal (Because baseball is unimportant), is that it proves me right yet again about what I've said about sports all my life. "Sports builds character," my idiot PE teachers in high school used to say, when trying to pressure us into supporting, or even worse, participating, in sports. (High school PE teachers are the boobs who did not qualify for jobs as janitors. Calling them "Teachers" is an insult to actual teachers.) I always replied "No, sports builds characterS!" They pay lip service to "It's not whether you win or lose; it's how you play the game that counts," but they ALL really worship at the alter of Vince Lombardi's "Winning isn't everything; it's the ONLY thing."

And, of course, sports worship teaches kids to think sports are important.

I have never given a shit in hell who won any World Series ever, or indeed, any baseball game ever, but I do feel the cheating teams should be stripped of their victory and those championships awarded to the Dodgers. I don't give a crap about the Dodgers, but it would be the ultimate punishment for the cheaters.

Now back to the Impeachment trial, you know, something where the outcome and who wins is IMPORTANT! who wins a baseball game matters about as much as who wins a Golden Globe.

Jeff Boice said...

I think the Astros got away with it for a while- they were investigated for sign stealing in the 2018 ALCS and "exonerated"- however Rob Manfred rather coincidentally chose that moment to issue new guidelines concerning placement of non broadcast cameras in stadiums.

I think of that fan interference call in the 2018 ALCS that went against the Astros- the call stood because a Houston security guard blocked the view from the one replay camera that had a perfect angle on the play- seems like karma now.

And I also think of Sandy Koufax and how he supposedly tipped his pitches- and they still couldn't hit him.

scottmc said...

Add me to list of those who loved the last sentence of the post. I am kicking myself for missing your two short plays performed earlier this month at The Gallery Players. I checked their sight earlier this month, noticed they were doing Masha,Spike...' next month, and didn't look at the Black Box line-up. Knowing of your affection for Jeopardy I can imagine how much fun that one is and a play with a ticked off Shakespeare could give a lot for an actor to do in ten minutes.

Anonymous said...

Don’t forget: Altuve was voted MVP by the sports press, largely due to his batting “skill.” That’s another fraud.

Breadbaker said...

With regard to electronic signalling of pitch calls from catcher to pitcher, apparently there's been attempts to work out a usable system that have not, heretofore, succeeded. You'd need security, of course, but also it would have to be equipment that a pitcher and catcher, who are constantly moving during a baseball game, could seamlessly use without affecting their performance. In football, the quarterback gets signals in his helmet; a pitcher doesn't have something similar. It will presumably be worked on even harder after this scandal, but that's my understanding of why it hasn't been implemented yet.

The impact, as some players have pointed on, on careers is something that really has to be taken into account. Take a pitcher called up from the minors, where he's doing great, and sent in to pitch twice in an Astros series in 2017. He gets shelled because the signs are stolen. He gets sent down and either never pitches in the majors again or is held back for months until recalled against another team, losing service time towards free agency. I suspect the hive mind of baseball fans on the web are in fact researching questions like this right now. But there is no questions some players were financially and career-wise hit by this, and the difference between even major league minimum and minor league salaries is significant to someone's lifetime earnings.

Honest Ed said...

@ Markus... I get why it confers an advantage. To use your football analogy, it's more like if the goalkeeper is facing the penalty taker and gets told by a team-mate that they've seen the coach signal to the penalty taker to put it low and to his right. But this is information that is out in public. The other side is surely entitled to try and figure out these coded signals? Whether it's done by camera, or bin lids doesn't really make a huge difference. Pointing a camera at a dug out isn't the worst offence these days?

As for how other sports treat it, yes, sometimes there are strict penalties, sometimes not. Look at Saracens in Rugby - there was a salary cap, it was observed by the other teams but they cheated on it in order to sign a better calibre of player they would have if they'd observed the rules. Clear cheating, but they got to choose their punishment. Then look at calciopoli. Juventus, after trying to hand pick referees, lost 1 title and got relegated, but it seemed underwhelming. Or look at the Rangers scandal in Scotland. After a decade of industrial scale cheating, they were basically allowed to get away with it, keeping titles they won and getting the smallest of slaps on the wrist.

I completely understand why fans of those teams who were cheated don;t want to be awarded the wins, but I see little wrong with stripping titles and leaving the record books vacant.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know impeachment was a contest

Mike Barer said...

Not to mention, the Astros fired an executive who was accused of taunting a female reporter. Traditionally, I have liked the Astros, but that was the National League, Astrodome Astros of years past.

Breadbaker said...

@HonestEd, the real difference is that a penalty kick occurs quite rarely in football, but the Astros were apparently doing this at every home game. The penalty taker is not going to be off the team because his penalty kicks get stopped. A relief pitcher may well be because what had been his unhittable change-up in the minors gets successively homered off by Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.

Liggie said...

In the meantime, spare a thought for the innocent victim of this scandal: the trash can the Astros were banging on. It went to a PHiladelphia newscast to vent its feelings, while in the Trashcan Protection Program:

D McEwan said...

"Anonymous Anonymous said...
I didn't know impeachment was a contest

Then you don't know much. It's being contested right now on the Senate floor. The prize is America's soul

kent said...

If you understood baseball you would know he's dead on.

Anonymous said...

Only to the self-righteous

Honest Ed said...


While a penalty kick may occur more rarely, it's much more likely to impact on the outcome of a game than an individual pitch or bat is. And it's not really the point, anyway. Either trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do is cheating or it isn't. If the Astros were, say, bribing someone for the signs, or bugging changing rooms, then absolutely, yes, that is cheating. But observing the use of the signs in public, cracking the code, and tipping off your players is not, for me, the worst offence in the world. You can make a strong case that it's unsporting, but that isn't the same as cheating.

Charles Bryan said...

I wish that I could find a link to the article where I read it, but the Commissioner's Office had warned clubs about doing this specifically. The camera systems were installed for analysis and coaching after the games. Some additional security measures had been initiated (observers, I believe, or rules regarding placement of the TV monitor well back in the clubhouse) and the Astros actively circumvented these measures.

And, you are absolutely right - given player movement, this was a stupid plan.

fred said...

Don't remember the year. But there was a Mariner game in Toronto. After 2 innings the Blue Jays had Randy Johnson on the ropes. Mariners down 5-0 (or whatever) after two innings. Dave Valley came up with the idea going into the next inning to "change signs" and Randy shut them down the next several innings. It never became a big deal. But I think it should have, especially if it was with the help of technology. Someone raised the possibility of all the young pitchers, in the AL West in particular, who got send back down to AAA because of what the ASS-tros did. Possibly never to return. So yeah, the Astros, I hope they burn!

D McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
Only to the self-righteous

A statement that would only be made by one of Trump's racist, fascist supporters. No wonder you're "Anonymous." You haven't got the balls to sign your name to your support of Fascism.

Mike Doran said...

I put one up a couple of days ago, which for whatever reason didn't go through.
Here's an abridged version:

In his memoir Veeck - As In Wreck, published in 1962, Bill Veeck has a chapter titled "The Name Of The Game Is Gamesmanship".

Bill tells many stories of how, over the many years, he and his staffers would come up with various ways of manipulating the playing fields that they owned, in order to gain an advantage for whichever home team they had at the time.

One example, to serve for many:
When Bill owned the Cleveland Indians, the team had just moved into Municipal Stadium, which had the largest available outfield area in either league.
Bill's first move was to set up a temporary outfield fence, closer to the diamond.
This was a removable fence, sleeves were put into the ground, and the fence was strung between poles that fit into the sleeves.
Years later, Bill Veeck revealed in his memoir that his groundskeeper, the legendary Emil Bossard, had placed several sets of sleeves into the outfield, distanced apart by a number of feet; this enabled the Indians to alter the distances as needed, according to whoever they were playing that particular day.
As you might expect, Bill and his staff didn't announce the day-to-day movements of the outfield fence ahead of time; why create a fuss?
As I said above, this is one example out of many that Veeck cites on himself in his book; I'm reasonably sure that he wasn't the only owner who took "liberties" with the rules in this fashion, then or ever.
As the book says - Gamesmanship.
Catch me if you can.
The problem was that whoever set up the Astroscheme was dumb enough to get caught.
I mean, banging on a trashcan?
In the words of The Prophet, Geez Loueez!

As I'm writing this, today's Impeachmentpalooza is starting up.
The weather here in Chicagoland is rotten, so I'll be staying home.
Not fun at all (and I'm hoping that That Man In The White House eventually gets caught out, just like the trashcan man in Houston was).
People, please - Perspective.

Anonymous said...

My name is Jim. So much for that.
I am neither a racist, nor am I a fascist. I try not to engage ad hominem.
My problem is I am not very self-righteous, nor apparently am I civilized or enlightened.
But I'll work on it.

Jahn Ghalt said...

Great post, Ken. Looking forward to more.

Glenn and Honest Ed asked what aspect of the sign-stealing is considered cheating.

Markus addressed this - saying that "technical means is a no-go" but wondered what that covers.

I believe that sign-stealing by runners at second base is a long-"honored" tradition - and so is sending your own signs to the batter. So it's the camera and TV set up that crosses the line.

Keith Hernandez, in Pure Baseball: Pitch by Pitch for the Advanced Fan (1994) stated that he once considered, or actually did, glance back at the catcher to steal a sign. HE also stated, that if caught, he should expect to "eat dirt" avoiding a high hard one.

(of course we know that the chief ump now has the power to eject a pitcher for throwing at a batter)

(and when, Ken, did that become adopted?)


ChipO asked:

wtf is the diff between Sinker, Slider, Curve?

Related to this - I once proposed to my son (then 10 YO) that I'd give him ten bucks if he correctly called 10 consecutive pitches "fastball" or "breaking pitch". We were seated behind the plate - had a good look - and damned if I didn't have a hard time making the distinction on many pitches.


I agree with D. McEwan that sports worship is (at best) regrettable - not so much about laughing cynically about "Integrity" in professional sports.

I strongly reject his generalizing his experience ("idiot PE teachers") into slagging off all PE teachers and character-building for sports kids.

My experience as a student and sports kid was quite different. Our varsity basketball coach, fresh from Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo, taught my 8th-grade health class. Take it from me as a top student when I say that he was serious and diligent about it. ALL of our coaches insisted that we behave with decorum and respect - a sure way to get benched was to mouth off to a referee. When I was cut from varsity baskerball, that same health teacher did it four years later in person and with gentle respect.

Further, I never witnessed abuse or bullying of a student by any teacher- PE or otherwise.

Bruce P. said...

Of all the comments above, I think DwWashburn hit it on the head. MLB players know from precedent that they can cheat because MLB will do nothing about it until they are forced by third parties. This fact is disgraceful but is not unique to baseball.

Look at the procedures in Washington right now. You have a majority of the Senate telling the guy in the White House that we'll allow you to break the law and defame the Constitution. In this scenario Orange Julius equals the MLB players and the Senate majority are MLB. The minority party is playing the part of sports reporters and disgruntled former players. Unfortunately I don't see our national security crisis coming to a solution like the MLB cheating did. And that is a catastrophe.