Mike O’Brien ’23
After Hurricane Harvey ravaged Houston in August of 2017, the city needed a beam of hope. Similarly to how New Orleans rallied around the hometown Saints and the iconic Steve Gleason blocked punt play in the Superdome, sports can often be a fantastic way to display the fortitude a city and even a nation have in the face of adversity. Houston captured the hearts of America in their 2017 postseason run, which culminated in the franchise’s first-ever World Series win on Nov. 1, 2017, in a Game 7 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. But there seems to be a darker side to this feel-good story.
Against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 the 2019 ALDS, Tampa Bay ace Tyler Glasnow seemed to be accidentally tipping his pitches to the Astros, meaning Houston could predict what type of pitch would be thrown based on the height of Glasnow’s glove. If Glasnow held his glove high, the pitch coming would likely be a fastball. If his glove was held low before the pitch was released, it was a changeup. Because of Glasnow tipping his pitches, the Astros jumped all over his pitches, scoring four runs in the first inning, and went on to take the winner-take-all game 6-1.
While it was not Houston’s fault that Glasnow was tipping his pitches, it was still unsettling to know that the result of the crucial game could have been completely different if the Astros did not know what pitch was coming at them, with the Rays having all the momentum going into Game 5 winning the two previous games. However, there is a huge difference between tipping pitches and stealing signs electronically, which the Astros seem to have done in the 2017 World Series run.
In a video put together by YouTuber Jomboy Media, which amassed over 600,000 views in one day, film from a regular season game between the Astros and White Sox is broken down with convincing evidence that Houston was stealing signs from the catcher. Every time the White Sox catcher signaled for a change-up to be thrown, a very audible banging sound could be heard from the Astros dug-out. When a different pitch such as a fastball was thrown, the banging sound disappeared. When White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar started piecing things together, he called his catcher to the mound for a meeting, presumably telling him to switch the signs after he heard the banging. With less than two seconds between the signal being called and the banging being heard, there is no way Houston could have been able to do this without technology.
These actions were confirmed by former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who explained how the Astros were able to pull off this stunt. Using a camera set-up in center field that could presumably zoom in under the catcher’s mitt to be able to see the signals, this camera ran footage into a TV in the Astros clubhouse, in which the footage would be relayed to a team employee in the dugout who would create the banging sound to alert the batter of an off-speed pitch coming their way.
Besides this instance with the White Sox, it is unclear how often and what other methods the Astros used to read signals from opposing catchers in their 2017 championship season. However, in a similar incident to Glasnow in this past ALDS, former Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish seems to have fallen victim to the Astros reading tipped pitches in the 2017 World Series. After allowing eight runs in just 3 ⅓ innings, which included a Game 7 start, Dodgers fans were quick to lash out at Darvish for choking. But, it appears with the Astros quickly escalating track record of scandalous ways of reading pitches, Darvish may not be at blame.
Another team that may have fallen victim to the Astros’ cheating is the New York Yankees, who were taken down by Houston in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS. During a postgame interview following Game 1 of that series, several Yankees players and staff members went on to say that they believed to hear whistling coming from the Houston dugout before pitches were released. When replying on that matter at the time, Astros manager A.J. Hinch replied, “It made me laugh. Because it’s ridiculous. Had I known it would have taken something like that to set off the Yankees, we would’ve practiced it during Spring Training.” While it’s unclear if this whistling incident had to do with stealing signs or not, the Yankees’ claims seem to not be as “ridiculous” as Hinch said they were. Additionally, the Yankees lost all four games at Minute Maid Park this series, where the Astros would have been able to steal signs electronically.
The Astros historic team statistics from the 2017 season seem to not be working in their favor either. Whether by coincidence or not, the 2017 Astros lead the majors in runs scored, highest number total bases covered, and highest team batting average. Was this due to a high powered offense leads by the likes of sluggers Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa or because of the Astros being able to effectively read pitches? We may get our answer soon. While Astros GM Jeff Luhnow claims to not know anything about the allegations, the MLB has formally announced that they will soon launch an investigation into the incidents.
This does not help the Astros already troubling end to their season, one in which wrapped up with a World Series loss to the Washington Nationals and the firing of former assistant GM Brandon Taubman. First reported by Sports Illustrated, “[I]n the center of the room, assistant general manager Brandon Taubman turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, ‘Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!’” Taubman was referring to the recently acquired Roberto Osuna, who was previously suspended 75 games for assaulting the mother of his child.
While the city of Houston received a great amount of hope at the time with their hometown team winning their first championship, the cost at which they have done so if the allegations are true is unacceptable. With the combination of stealing signs electronically and predicting tipped-off pitch releases, this is not a good look for the 2017 World Series Championships. With this brewing cheating scandal and the firing of their assistant GM after highly inappropriate comments making fun of a highly sensitive subject, does this make the Astros the most unlikeable team in baseball?