AstroGate: Is the Penalty Too Much?

The Marlins weren’t directly affected by the investigation into sign-stealing in Houston.

But the ramifications of the ruling so far will have repercussions into the forseeable future, to the Marlins and every other team. To wit, Houston Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were terminated after a League investigation confirmed the Astros had cheated during 2017 and 2018.

Astros owner Jim Crane was blunt with his assessment and explanation:

Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it. We need to move forward with a clean slate.

The investigation confirmed that the Astros used a camera-based system both during the regular season and the playoffs in order to steal signs from the opposing catcher, and relay that information to the batter by “banging on garbage cans.” Allegedly, a designated player near an undisclosed monitor near the dugout would bang on a can when an off-speed pitch was coming. Luhnow accepted responsibility, but stressed that he, personally, isn’t a cheater:

I did not know rules were being broken…The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach.

As for the league’s discipline, they suspended Luhnow and Hinch for one year, until the day after the final game of the 2020 World Series. The Astros response was to fire the two. But was all this really necessary?

Stealing signs has been around for a long time. Famously, the New York Giants employed use of a telescope placed in their center-field clubhouse. The guy at the telescope relayed either fastball or off-speed to another guy in the bullpen, and the bullpen guy signaled the hitter in some way. It’s generally accepted that stealing signs with your eyes, in live-action, is all right. Using technology to steal signs is a big no-no, considered cheating in fact, but that specific rule wasn’t in place until the 2017 season.

The use of electronic equipment during a game is restricted. No club shall use electronic equipment, including but not limited to walkie-talkies, cellular telephones, laptop computers or tablets, to communicate to or with any on-field personnel, including those in the dugout, bullpen, field and, during the game, the clubhouse. – Boston Globe

But is that rule really fair? Using new technology to gain an edge over the opponent is just another way to win. So prior to 2017, it was ok to use cameras to steal signs. Circumventing the rules, or finding a way to break the rules without breaking the rules, so to speak, is the name of the game. I’ve heard it said that, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” Inventing a new way to cheat could be just a new way to win. It may have worked out for the Astros in the form of a World Series victory in 2017, but the penalty to several of the involved parties will carry on long into the future, and there’s also the matter of the draft picks.

The Astros have also lost both their first and second round picks for the 2020 and 2021 drafts, which may end up being the most damaging penalty to Houston in the end. Was it really fair? Some agree, but I don’t. Should the Astros forfeit their World Series Championship?

Whatever your opinion, let us know in the comments below or on Twitter. Thanks for reading.

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