As Astros Compete for Spot in World Series, 2017 Sign Stealing Scandal Still Looms

In January 2020, the MLB confirmed that the Houston Astros had engaged in an illegal form of sign stealing during the 2017 season — the postseason in which they secured a World Series championship — and portions of the 2018 season. The team was found to have used outfield cameras in their home ballpark to film opposing catchers’ signs and relay them to the batter using audio cues such as banging on trash cans. 

After the scandal made headlines, the baseball community across the United States called for accountability for the players involved in the illegal sign stealing. However, the only members of the Houston organization to face any type of suspension were Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who each received a one-year ban from the league. Boston Red Sox Manager Alex Cora also received a one-year ban due to his role in the scandal as the Houston bench coach in 2017. There was also a hefty fine against the Astros organization. 

Outcry from fans disappointed in the low level of punishment for Houston players has continued since then. Although some players had to face consequences, most of the punishments were disregarded, as players who cooperated with the league were granted immunity. 

No fans were allowed in MLB stadiums during the 2020 season due to COVID-19, but the offending Astros players were met with heckling and “boos” this summer when fans were welcomed back into ballparks.

This week, the Astros are competing in their fifth straight American League Championship Series with four of the offensive stars who were on the 2017 team: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel. Many fans feel their continued run of success is undeserved and that the offending players should have had to pay for their actions. 

Oberlin third-year pitcher and New York Yankees fan Vince Dolcemaschio was disgusted with the news of the scandal, knowing Houston used their illegal tactics against his favorite team in the regular season and playoffs. 

“It is perfectly fine to try and steal signs — it’s a part of the game, but when you are using technology that is only available to you as the home team, that is when it becomes an issue,” Dolcemaschio said. 

Dolcemaschio also felt strongly about the lack of punishment for the players and their apparent lack of remorse. 

“Their apologies were completely half-assed and clearly not genuine,” he said. “There should have been suspensions for the players. They should have been fined inordinate amounts.”

Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry and New York Mets fan Jason Belitsky felt empathy for Astros fans when he heard the news of the scandal because the World Series the team had won in 2017 would be forever tainted. However, he still feels the players involved should have been punished.

“I would have liked to see a more severe punishment or significant fines for the entirety of the team,” Belitsky said. “At a minimum, playoff and World Series bonuses could have been stripped.”

Belitsky also believes it is feasible that other teams have used technology to get advantages in recent years and that the MLB’s ban of non-broadcast cameras in the outfield was appropriate. Regarding the current Astros’ postseason run, Belitsky feels there is no reason to feel they do not deserve to be there.

“I don’t think I’d hold the current team accountable. They did have leadership changes and are — hopefully — the most scrutinized in terms of similar offenses,” Belitsky said.

Oberlin third-year catcher and Astros fan Sean Livingstone was left in disbelief when he heard the news that his favorite team was involved in an illegal sign stealing scandal. 

“I’ve been a fan of this team for years now, and hearing the news that there had been a cheating scandal left me with a variety of emotions, anger being the most prevalent,” Livingstone said. 

He felt this way due to the fact that the Astros had threatened the integrity of the game at large. 

“The reason we watch baseball is because any team can win on any given day,” Livingstone said. “When you do what the Astros do, it eliminates the joy that many of us get out of baseball itself.”

The conflicted feeling would still remain for Livingstone if the Astros win this year’s World Series. 

“It would show that these guys didn’t need cheating to win back in 2017, which hurts the most as a fan,” Livingstone said. “This team is solid and obviously I would be ecstatic if they were to win it all this year, but in the back of my mind it would sting as well.”

The Astros will compete against the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS on Friday with a chance to clinch a spot in the World Series. As we see members of the 2017 Houston roster compete, the illegal sign stealing scheme they used to become world champions four years ago still lingers in the minds of MLB fans.