The Astros are back in the World Series for the third time in five years.
Though several years after the cheating scandal that marred its first title in 2017, Houston has been unable to escape the shadow of the scandal. Rival fans bring inflatable trash cans to games and constantly refer to the Astros as cheaters, as the memory of the 2017 race still lingers.
Here’s a full look at the Astros cheating scandal, from when it was first reported to how long it lasted to the aftermath of the MLB investigation.
MORE: Complete Timeline of the Astros Cheating Scandal
How did the Astros cheat?
The Astros cheating scandal began in early 2017. According to MLB research reportHouston employees in the video room used the broadcast of the game from the center field camera to decode and transmit the signals from opposing teams to the Astros’ base runners at second base.
The means of transmitting the signs often varied. With the runner on second, the team would have an intermediary between the video room and the dugout, and the staff in the dugout would send the signal to the runner on second, who would then signal to the batter which pitch was coming. Bench coach Alex Cora would also call the replay review room to hear signal information and sometimes the replay review room would text a smartwatch or phone stored in the dugout to communicate the signs.
However, the report indicated that the scandal went further. Designated hitter Carlos Beltran and several other players came up with a plan to improve signal stealing. Cora installed a monitor that showed the signal from the center field camera directly outside the dugout, and a player watched it and read the signals that were coming. The team then hit a trash can to signal which pitch was coming to the batter. The trash can only came into play after trying to clap, whistle and yell.
MORE: How Red Sox Manager Alex Cora Was Involved In The Astros’ Sign Stealing Scandal
The Red Sox were caught in a similar incident in September 2017, and the commissioner’s office sent a message warning teams not to use replay equipment to steal posters or relay information to teams. The warning stated that general and field managers would be held responsible for the actions of the teams if they were caught. The report indicated that the Astros continued to use their signal stealing strategy throughout the 2017 season and postseason.
While the trash can hitting stopped in 2018, the report indicated that the Astros still had the replay review room to relay messages to running backs in second gear, but it was eventually stopped when players decided it was no longer effective. The report said the Astros did not violate any MLB policies during the 2018 postseason, the 2019 regular season or the postseason.
Who participated in the plan?
The report found that the only ones directly involved with the executive in the scandal were the players, employees of lower-level baseball operations and Cora.
As a result of the warning to the teams that the manager and general manager would be responsible for any illegal use of technology in the game, the players involved were not disciplined. However, the report indicated that most of the team’s position players received signals or helped decode the signals. The players told investigators that if AJ Hinch, the manager, had asked them to stop, they would have done so. The report said that “virtually every Astros player had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme.”
MORE: Fans May Not Be Happy About Red Sox Sign Stealing Scandal, But MLB Got What It Wanted
Hinch was found not to be involved in the plan and did not support the scandal because he felt it was wrong and distracting, but he also told investigators that he did not try to stop him or tell the players or Cora that he did not. approve it. Cora was found to help develop the scheme both for using the replay review room to transmit signals to the second and for using the hitting scheme.
The report said Astros general manager and president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow received multiple emails that at least mentioned the use of the replay review room, though he denied knowledge of the cheating efforts. However, the report says there is some evidence that he had at least some knowledge, but that he might not have paid much attention to it.
What alerted MLB to the scandal?
MLB didn’t begin its investigation of the Astros until Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of Athletic released the story in November 2019 that the team stole posters. The key informant on the situation was former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who signed with the Tigers before being traded to American League rival Athletics.
“That is not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go the extra mile to win.”
Teams had reportedly already been on alert for the Astros when the report came out. The first known account of an opposing player learning of the scandal came in September 2017 when White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar noticed the trash can hit, according to The Athletic.
MORE: Dallas Keuchel Apologizes For Astros’ Sign Stealing Scandal, Says Mike Fiers Breaked ‘Clubhouse Rule’
Major League Baseball responded to The Athletic report by expanding its investigation into the Astros, which had initially been initiated only to investigate the actions of former executive Brandon Taubman. Taubman made inappropriate comments to reporters after Houston won the American League pennant in 2019 regarding the signing of Roberto Osuna’s team, who had been suspended by MLB for violating the league’s domestic violence policies.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported that in October 2018, the Indians and Red Sox became concerned that the Astros were stealing posters. That 2018 report was also the first mention of teams expressing concern that Houston was using a trash can to point out signs, and the Dodgers allegedly believed they cheated in the World Series.
Punishment for the Astros
In Manfred’s report, he said the Astros’ conduct warranted “significant discipline.” He said that while it was impossible to say whether the behavior changed the outcome of any game, “the perception by some that it does cause significant damage to the game.”
As a team, the Astros lost first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draws, or if the team loses any of the picks due to compensation by signing a free agent, the team will lose the next applicable pick. So if the Astros lost their 2021 first-round pick by signing a free agent, then they would be stripped of their 2022 first-round pick. The team was also fined $ 5 million, which was the maximum eligible fine.
MORE: Explaining Astros’ Sign Stealing Scandal, Punishment After MLB Too Down Houston
Luhnow was suspended without pay in January 2020 until the end of that year’s World Series. He was not allowed to work for the team or any other team during that time, and he was not allowed to be present during it at any of the club’s facilities. Any other infraction made by him would result in being placed on the permanently ineligible list. Hinch received exactly the same punishment. Both Luhnow and Hinch were fired by the Astros. Hinch has since returned to become the Tigers’ coach.
Cora, who became the manager of the Red Sox after the World Series victory, was not disciplined at the time as MLB awaited the findings of the Red Sox cheating scandal. He too was eventually suspended for the entirety of the 2020 season, although he did eventually return to Boston in 2021.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.