The Houston Astros cheating story that broke this week sounds like an amusing tale you might have heard around the hot stove in years past.
But that was the old days. It is no longer a time of recounting entertaining antics. In these days of high-tech capabilities and wildfire social media, things are different.
This is the latest in a number of controversies involving the Astros over the years. But this different; it could lead to real punishment. That means substantial fines, player suspensions, draft pick forfeitures, things that could seriously hurt the Astros’ future. It also leads to plenty of questions that should be answered before the first pitch on opening day 2020.
Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers first stirred the scandal pot earlier this
week when he told The Athletic that the Astros cheated by using a camera and signals to tip off their batters during the 2017 season, when Fiers was on the Astros staff.
Here’s how the scheme apparently worked:
A camera was set up to zoom in on the opposing catcher’s signals. The camera had a direct feed to a video screen somewhere near the Astros dugout.
Someone at the screen would read the catcher signal and in turn signal the batter before the pitch, usually by banging on a pipe or trash can. Fastball, swing; off-speed pitch, take.
Since the Fiers report, at least two videos with sound have surfaced to corroborate the allegation. In other words, the Astros were pretty much caught red handed.
And the Los Angeles Dodgers even went to trouble to go over tapes of 2017 World Series Games 3 and 7, when Yu Darvish was shelled. They claim the cheat signals were at least part of the reason.
As far as determining outcomes, there are a number of factors involved here, including pitcher and batter tendencies, etc.
But all of that is beside the point when it comes to outright cheating.
Could sign stealing actually determine the outcome of a game, a series or even a season?
How often did the Astros use the hi-tech scheme?
Who was involved, and who was aware this was going on?
And what about other teams or players?
If Houston players, manager A.J. Hinch and front office people like GM Jeff Luhnow are proven to have participated or known about the practices, we could have a real mess on our hands.
Astros players could be suspended, fined or both. The franchise could lose big bonus money and draft picks, not to mention money from fines. A postseason ban has been mentioned. There are even rumblings of lawsuits from fans of opposing teams.
Would people quit buying tickets to Astros games? Doubtful. As a matter of fact, tickets to Houston Astros games may be the best way get to see the team, if they are penalized TV dates.
Even worse, the whole thing could reverberate across the league, if other teams are found to have engaged in similar schemes.
We might even see a time when there are hi-tech solutions. Imagine catchers, pitchers and managers with mics and earphones to communicate, eliminating need for hand signals.
But for now, the future of the Astros and their integrity is at stake. It all depends on how Major League Baseball handles this situation in the coming months.