The Houston Astros Cheated the Sports World and Got Away with It
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The Houston Astros have created a dynasty in the baseball world. They used a combination of speed, power, and many different players to win a championship in 2017. They had the best pitching in the league and had six out of their twenty-five players named to the all-star team. Their second baseman, Jose Altuve, won the Most Valuable Player award over the New York Yankees rookie sensation, outfielder Aaron Judge. Not only did the Houston Astros win the 2017 World Series, but they also made it to the 2019 World Series and lost in game seven of the seven-game series, at home, against the Washington Nationals. They established their organization as a winning franchise, and they were quite fun to watch. They arguably had five of the top fifteen best players in the major leagues’ all on one team. They went from having one of the worst attendances in the league to one of the best from 2015 to 2019. The fans were on board for their success and everyone knew with the talent they had multiple championships could be won. This success did not come without a lot of trials and tribulations as the Astros were not a good ballclub by any means from 2006-2014. They lost at least 106 games from 2011-2013 and they did not make the playoffs from 2006-2014. Their franchise has been around since 1962 but their World Series win in 2017 was their first and maybe their last for a long time. Rumblings of the Astros using technology to their advantage illegally began to make its way around the baseball world in the years following, but it became public in 2019. Although there have been many cheating scandals in the past, the Houston Astros cheating the baseball world by using a camera in center field to read catchers’ signals to see what pitches were coming have depleted their reputations, ruined players' careers, and changed the way baseball will be portrayed and played forever.
In November of 2019, an article from the Athletic by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich came out detailing a covert operation by the Houston Astros explaining how they electronically stole signals. They used this to their advantage against the competition in key situations and did not do much to hide it. They did this at their home ballpark and their offensive numbers were much better at home in the playoffs than on the road. A pitcher for the Houston Astros at the time, Mike Fiers, went on the record and stated the Astros indeed had a tech-fueled sign-stealing scheme in 2017. The team used a camera positioned in the center-field wall to steal signs during the game that would then be transmitted to a computer near their clubhouse locker room. They would have a member of their organization sit in the hallway dugout and when he saw that an off-speed pitch was incoming, he would bang a trash can for the batter to hear. When there was a fastball incoming, he would not bang at all. When looking back on game film from 2017 major league officials realized there was a major problem. It was evident, and the public knew about it. After months of deliberation and outcry by the fans and players, major league baseball announced the ramifications of this scandal. It resulted in the Houston Astros manager and GM being suspended for the 2020 season. The owner fired both of them shortly thereafter. Houston also lost their first and second-round draft picks for the next two seasons and received the maximum fine of five million dollars. This subsequent action not only made the Astros look bad but also the commissioner of baseball and the league as a whole. Major League baseball had known something was going on long before the 2019 Athletic article, and around the league,
“Paranoia about the Astros methods had gripped baseball, affecting the way other teams scouted and prepared to face Houston — in some cases crippling officials with worry''
Not only did this ruin the reputation of the Astros, but it also harmed the reputation of baseball as a whole. With baseball not being the main topic of most sports conversations, it is sad that a cheating scandal had to bring baseball back to the forefront. The Houston Astros sign-stealing makes the public view the major leagues in a more negative light. With the Astros illegally accessing signs and the players getting away with it signals a bad message to its fans. The bottom line is major league pitchers try to get batters out in any way they possibly can. There are at least ten different pitches that can be thrown at a variety of arm angles. If the batter knows what pitch is coming, they are at a huge advantage over their competition. The electronic access of signs allowed the talented Astros squad to illegally have the advantage over other teams and win many games they should not have won.
The great game of baseball has seen its fair share of cheating scandals since the modern era began in 1900. There was the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, the steroids era in the 1990s, the owners colluding against players contracts in the 1985-1987 off-seasons, and more. The Astros scandal ranks as one of the biggest cheating scandals in the history of the game, but the Black Sox and steroid scandals also tarnished baseball forever. The Chicago White Sox were the best team in baseball and were heavily favored to defeat the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. Notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein approached members of the team and asked them to intentionally throw the World Series. Many players on the team did not agree to do this until he offered them a deal that they could not refuse. Rothstein offered to double their salaries. Baseball players made around the same amount of money that a handyman made in 1919 and almost the entire team agreed to do their part in throwing the series. This led to eight players being banned for life in 1921, and it tarnished the image of Shoeless Joe Jackson who would have gone down as one of the best players of all time. He turned down Rothstein's offer and this was evident by him leading the team in hits while committing no errors in the field. This scandal is still talked about today and is compared to the steroid era in the 1990s. Many players took steroids to gain more power and to prolong their playing careers all across the league. In a book by Kirk Radomski, a kingpin in supplying the illegal substances to major leaguers said that after hundreds of talks with major-leaguer players not once did someone ask if the drugs were safe. This shows that major league players did not care about how the drug affected them if it helped them perform better. It became so big in the 1990s that almost every player was taking performance-enhancing drugs. They almost had no choice when deciding whether to take it or not because they knew someone that was juicing would take their job. They wanted and needed to be better no matter what the consequences were. The two scandals are alike because the state of baseball at those times shaped these player’s decisions. These two scandals tarnished the game forever and resulted in many players being banned for life and blackballed from baseball for their wrongdoings.
The 1919 Chicago White Sox
The 2020 major league baseball season has been postponed and may be canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, but this scandal will follow the Houston Astros players forever. The members of the Astros were granted immunity for their testimonies which resulted in the commissioner announcing that none of them will be suspended. This is vastly different from previous scandals in major league history but players around the game will never respect the Astros again. It was the talk of spring training and almost every major league player chimed in on the issue. LeBron James even commented on how upset he would be if something like this had happened in the NBA. The players on the Astros were very defensive and almost unapologetic for their actions. A former player who pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays, Mike Bolsinger, is suing the Astros for ruining his career. Bolsinger was a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 and was having a pretty average season until he faced the Houston Astros. He alleged that his outing on August 4, 2017, ended his MLB career as he was cut loose by the Blue Jays shortly after his nightmarish outing in Houston. He remembered telling teammates that
“It was like they knew what I was throwing”
He is seeking for the organization to forfeit some of the 31 million dollars that they collected for winning the World Series a few months later. Players that were on the Houston Astros have not spoken out much, but the now-retired Evan Gattis recently had a lot to say on the issue. He agreed that the Astros should be punished for their actions and that they indeed cheated the game. The players on Houston Astros have no ramifications as a result of this scandal and they will retain their 2017 World Series title, but many players and executives for the team will never have the respect from peers that they once had. This is obviously not fair to the public and to the other players but Rob Manfred, the commissioner of the MLB, seems unbothered by the public opinion.
This scandal has had a huge impact on baseball and will go down as one of the worst scandals in history. Mike Fiers, the former Astros pitcher who spoke out and brought this issue to the public should be rewarded and respected for what he did. This was considered cheating due to the Astros illegally accessing technology during a game and transmitting it through the banging of the trash can to their hitters. The numbers show that they had an advantage at home, especially in the playoffs, and that the cheating could have continued up until 2019. There was even a story involving Astros players using buzzers in the 2019 playoffs, but the MLB could never figure out if it was going on. If this 2019 case was up to the public, most of the world would agree that something had to be going on. Because of course, the first thing that would come to my mind if I was Jose Altuve and hit a home run to send my team to the World Series, is please do not take my shirt off. I am just too shy. Previous scandals in baseball have held players more accountable and there were swift actions to ensure none of it would happen again. This did not happen with players in the 2019 scandal, but of course, the Astros GM, Astros manager, Boston Red Sox manager, and New York Mets manager all were fired due to this report. Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets played integral roles in this scandal when they were a part of the Astros. It is important to note Beltran was a player at the time. The 2017 Houston Astros squad will go down as one of the biggest cheating scandals in sports history and it will completely outweigh the talent they had on their roster and the accomplishments that they achieved.