A week ago, I referenced that I wanted to write something about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal but changed my mind. I thought at the time that it seemed pointless to tackle something that is, at this point, so very un-topical (atopical?). But the site’s called TedQuarters, so whatever’s on my mind counts as topical here. If you’re sick of reading about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, I don’t blame you, and please come back tomorrow.
I saw this tweet this morning:
I don’t know the person or people behind the @AsteriskTour twitter account, and I don’t begrudge them or anyone else their right to enjoy baseball however the heck they want to enjoy baseball. If the WWE has shown us anything, it’s that the presence of a clearly established villain can make rooting for the good guys more fun. And I take no issue whatsoever with anyone who looks forward to booing the Astros relentlessly when baseball returns: The Astros cheated, and booing is fun.
Based on the stats, the above tweet obviously resonates with a lot of baseball fans, and as such, it embodies a big part of what frustrates me about the response to the scandal. Again, I don’t really blame anyone if they want to get so mad as to insist the Astros “did something horrible to this game we all love” so much as I can’t bring myself to be nearly that mad.
And if you tuned in to the reaction from fans, media and other players in the wake of the Astros news, you’d know that the tweet above represents more or less the going sentiment in the baseball world. People threw around words like “disgraceful” and “disgusting” and “despicable,” and my inability to gin up that sort of outrage only further convinced me that I was always a poor fit for sports media.
I can’t often put jokes aside, myself. And here, we’re talking about baseball. Just baseball. Stupid baseball. If the Astros really did something horrible to baseball, who among us can argue that baseball didn’t have it coming? Baseball has done horrible things to my soul and my psyche on an annual basis for more than three decades running.
Also, we’re talking about dudes slamming a metal garbage can with a bat to relay signs stolen via a clubhouse video feed. It’s so damn silly! The Houston Astros, of all teams — so celebrated for their innovation and their technological savvy — found no more advanced method of communication than going H.A.M. on a trash can with a baseball bat. And when all the videos came out to expose it, it only seemed funnier. “Oh yeah, that’s definitely the sound of a baseball bat banging twice on a metal garbage can right before Alex Bregman jumped all over that curveball.”
Plus — plus! — I don’t believe for a moment that the Astros were the only team in recent years using technology to steal signs. We already know the Red Sox did something, we just don’t know exactly what because the commissioner’s office insists it has anything else to do right now. People who worked for the 2017 Astros now work all over the league. You’re telling me the only two instances of anything like this happening are the two we know about, perpetrated by two teams that happened to win World Series? C’mon. Some crappier club definitely pulled some shady stuff last year, too; we’ll never know because it didn’t help that much.
And that’s another thing! I’m not convinced it helped nearly as much as everyone assumes it helped! Obviously that doesn’t make it OK — cheating is cheating — but how often did anyone calling the Astros “a disgrace” and acting like their championship was purely the product of their cheating even mention that the 2017 Astros hit better on the road? Go look for yourself. They scored more runs on the road, with more hits, more doubles, more triples, more homers, a higher batting average, higher OBP, and higher slugging. Did everyone forget, in the months following the 2019 World Series, that the visiting team won every game in the 2019 World Series? It was a whole thing!
Finally, and by far the most frustrating aspect of the scandal, is that everyone got so busy wringing their hands and shaming the Astros that no one seemed to care that there’s a fairly easy way to ensure nothing like it ever happens again. By outfitting pitchers and catchers (and perhaps pitching coaches) with wireless earpieces or, heck, officially sanctioned buzzer systems, MLB could make sign-stealing impossible (and shave about 15 minutes’ worth of pitcher-catcher conferences off every game). Make clear that any effort to hack into the earpiece or buzzer system is grounds for an immediate lifetime ban, and maybe someone still tries it, but definitely most people don’t.
I understand that good, old-fashioned analog sign-stealing from second base has long been a part of baseball and I’ve participated in it myself. But it’s not like it makes the sport any more compelling or entertaining for fans, since we’re so rarely aware of it happening. And not that long ago, a guy losing a perfect game in the 9th on a clearly blown call at first base was “a part of baseball,” and no one seems to miss that part of baseball all that much now. We move forward.