Astros: Examining the real issues in the sign stealing controversy

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros and general manager Jeff Luhnow talk during batting practice at Minute Maid Park on April 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Manager A.J. Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros and general manager Jeff Luhnow talk during batting practice at Minute Maid Park on April 4, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 22: A view of the Houston Astros logo in centerfield during batting practice prior to Game One of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park on October 22, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – OCTOBER 22: A view of the Houston Astros logo in centerfield during batting practice prior to Game One of the 2019 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals at Minute Maid Park on October 22, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Do we have any real evidence of these alleged rule violations?

The common terminology being thrown around is “stealing signs,” but this verbiage makes it sound like some sort of espionage is being committed. In reality, it’s just smart people deciphering a code and then relaying that to their fellow teammates. There’s nothing in the official rules that prohibits this relay. Once again, the only thing prohibited is the use of electronic equipment to communicate with each other during games.

According to the first article published by The Athletic, Mike Fiers, a former pitcher for the Astros, along with three other unnamed sources, alleges that in 2017, the Astros used a camera set up in center field to steal signs from catchers during home games in 2017. The information was then allegedly communicated to a batter by banging loudly on a trash can.

We have a few zealous fans who have put together videos from 2017 in which alleged banging on trash cans and/or different whistles can be heard during specific at-bats by certain players.

According to the clarification issued by Manfred in 2019, which came nearly two years after these alleged violations, the only part of this allegation which may be circumspect is the alleged use of a camera to steal the signs. It would not have been illegal to communicate with the batter using the trashcan because this obviously is not electronic equipment.

There is still no smoking gun here with the timing of these alleged incidents because the rules were not even expanded and clarified by Manfred until 2019, and the Astros were not using an electronic means to communicate with each other.

In a second article from The Athletic, an executive in the front office is alleged to have sent an email to scouts requesting they go to games to report findings of what could and could not be seen of the opposing dugout during games. In and of itself, there is nothing too terribly wrong with this request. This still does not violate the rules because it was advanced scouting and does not prove equipment was used to electronically communicate with players during a game. All this email really proves is the Astros are diligent in finding that competitive edge.

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