New Information Suggests MLB Could Have Acted Sooner in Astros Scandal
Dec 9, 2019; San Diego, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics manager Bob Melvin speaks to the media during the MLB Winter Meetings at Manchester Grand Hyatt. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
The Oakland Athletics became the first team to acknowledge they filed a complaint with Major League Baseball against the Astros before Mike Fiers went public in November.
Sources – including Mike Fiers – confirm that the Astros were stealing signs in 2017 using an outfield camera, a monitor in the tunnel and banging on a trash can to convey pitches.@Ken_Rosenthal & @EvanDrellich on an issue that permeates the league: https://t.co/1uDvm4hNBK pic.twitter.com/BCSmlOzejt
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) November 12, 2019
Last month, during a pre-Fan Fest meeting with the media at the A’s offices in Oakland’s Jack London Square, it was no surprise that Fiers and the Astros were a big part of the conversation. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, multiple “players and officials” alluded to the idea that others in baseball had knowledge of, and were unhappy with, the situation. Still, no teams had yet acknowledged having contacted the league with their concerns.
Tuesday, when asked by The Chronicle if Oakland had previously filed a complaint, Melvin replied,
“Yeah, but I don’t know what else they could have done at that point.”
The question was likely prompted by an article published earlier that same day by The Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga and Dave Sheinin, in which an MLB executive estimated that at least “10-12 teams” had reached out to the league with concerns regarding the Astros use of technology to steal signs over the past few seasons.
That makes Melvin’s response instantly more interesting. While he was likely unaware that other teams had gone to the league about the matter, the league was certainly aware. Yet, they still did nothing?
If one team had come to them with concern over the matter, it’s logical not to launch a big investigation that could potentially tarnish the names of innocent individuals. However, the admission from the Athletics and the revelation that more than one-third of the league’s teams had made similar complaints changes the narrative, making it difficult to understand how there was no response to the allegations by the Commissioner’s Office.
It took a public statement by a player, Fiers, to force the league to take action.
Even if no complaints were made before the 2017 World Series, the league should have taken more action to safeguard against technology-based cheating. It was during the 2017 season when the Boston Red Sox, then under manager John Farrell, were fined for using an Apple Watch to relay signs from the monitors in the clubhouse to the dugout.
After the Astros defeated the Dodgers in, what even seemed at the time to be, a crazy seven-game series to win the 2017 Title, Houston’s bench coach Alex Cora was named the new manager of the Red Sox. Interestingly, that year Cora became the first rookie manager to win a World Series, taking his team on to defeat the very same Dodgers team he beat the year before.
Cora was later named in the Commissioner’s report as one of the masterminds, alongside the now-retired Carlos Beltrán, behind the Astros’ scheme. That resulted in a still-ongoing investigation into the events of the 2018 season and postseason, as well as costing Cora his job.
The New York Yankees, too, hold an interesting part in this sign-stealing scandal. They were defeated by the Astros in 2017 — the time in which they are now known to have been cheating. New York lost to Houston again in 2019. Over those two series, Houston went 6-1 at home.
Though the Commissioner’s investigation didn’t find proof of illegal schemes by the Astros in 2019, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they weren’t happening. Techniques could have been refined, technology and communication change quickly these days, nothing of the sort is out of the realm of possibility.
When the Washington Nationals swept the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2019 NL Pennant, they ended up with some downtime as the Yankees and Astros battled it out in the ALCS. Nationals’ general manager Mike Rizzo sent his top scouts to watch those games, preparing for a potential matchup with either team.
Strangely, under now-former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, many scouts had been fired and not a single one came to scout either potential opponent during the NLCS. Suspicious, yes, but also only circumstantial.
As the Nationals began to prepare for the World Series, even before the Astros would go on to defeat the Yankees in Game 6, people began reaching out to the team with warnings. Several players from the 2017 Dodgers reached out to former teammate Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier about the Astros stealing signs.
Nationals ace Max Scherzer reportedly reached out to former Astros and Nationals reliever Tony Sipp, asking him if the team should be concerned about sign stealing without runners on base. According to a source for the Washington Post, Sipp told him yes.
The conclusion to the 2019 ALCS aroused more suspicion amongst the Nationals and teams around the league. Upon rounding third, Altuve, clutched his jersey tightly, not allowing his teammates to tear it off of him.
When asked, Altuve said he was “shy” and got in trouble with his wife last time.
Here's Ken Rosenthal, who broke the news of the Astros cheating scandal, asking Jose Altuve why he was telling teammates not to rip his jersey off after the walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS: pic.twitter.com/xoBGX159QG
— Kyle ?? (@KyleNYY) January 16, 2020
Altuve’s unusual reaction made many begin to suspect that the Astros were now using buzzers under their uniforms to relay information about the upcoming pitch. You can watch the home run and draw your own conclusions.
It should also be noted however, that in a recent, exclusive interview with MLB Network, former Astros manager A.J. Hinch never answers a direct question regarding the use of buzzers, instead pointing out that the Commissioner’s investigation found no evidence of their use.
As more players have spoken out against the Astros over the offseason, some as recently as Wednesday, along with the recent article in the Washington Post, it’s become clear that it’s highly likely that a third of the league’s teams, at one point or another, had made their concerns known to the league.
The elephant in the room now is, “Why did MLB take so long to act?”