Technology, Once the Astros’ Ally, Helps Do Them In

Jeff Luhnow built a powerhouse in Houston by trying to gain every edge possible. In the end, he pushed the envelope too far.

Comments: 61

  1. From the start of the 2020 season, all electronics must be banned from the field, dugout, locker room, adjacent hallways and trainer rooms, etc. No iPads, cell phones, laptops, tablets or any other devices, once the game begins. After that, paper print outs only! Any infraction gets a year-long ban.

  2. To say that these people "didn't take money" is misleading. In professional sports, winning = money and money = winning. These people might have been tangentially motivated to win, but I'm quite certain they were primarily motivated by the money winning provided.

  3. Apparently with Jeff Luhnow, the five percent advantage was inadequate and so he bet the house with a compliant A. J. Hinch to bring in Cora who saw another angle, providing the lynch pin to tip the scales and assure wins. Greed brought down the Astros house of cards with Cora the wild card not initially part of the metrics game. The questions unanswered is how many Astros were in on the sign stealing game and why did they participate. Apparently character was not part of Luhnow’s digital metrics. Now Boston will finally get its comeuppance as MLB due diligence has escaped the Roid Sox for nearly two decades. Corrupt Alex Cora is about to be banned from baseball.

  4. Sounds like they are investigating Cora as the mastermind of the whole thing. He’s going to get the worst of Mr. Manfred’s punishment. Looks like the Yankees knew what they were talking about when they reported this to MLB last year.

  5. Time for Big Change We Can Believe In: Challenges on base calls still appropriate but NO more dugout video for challenges, with seasonal suspension automatic as detected by umpires. No electronics in outfield beyond TV, and No Electronic devices in dugouts or bullpens. Fines for violation upped to ten million for first infraction. Bring back Judge Landis' Outrage, or exit Manfred now with Doris Kernes Goodwin in as commish -- lose the public's belief in fair play and the game is finally over -- no extra innings, no wait 'till next year. Nada. Ban Cora for life, he's made enough money and enough enemies. Check the Green Monster with dogs and drones. Additionally, NO CHAINS visible, period, religious or bling. Hats worn "squared away." All pants to mid-calf above team stockings. All footwear traditional "kangaroo hide" black, no advertising, no logos, no day-glo. Uniforms fully buttoned, ALL year. Facial hair no more than one inch -- plate umps monitor upon ejection. Return some good old-time tradition to a unique American game that has suffered from this glitzy era of phony showmanship. Yes, I'm an old fuddy, but you don't remember when umpires were law between the lines and demanded compliance, and got it. We don't need all these self-expressionist braggarts -- play cool (see '98 Yankees, and others) and give the game back to the fans and the field back to committed baseball players and their exceptional talents, which any of us would give anything to own.

  6. Hats off to Commissioner Manfred and to Astros owner Jim Crane. If anything, these punishments were too light. In my opinion, they ought to be banned for life and some of the players out to be suspended, too. It would also be eminently reasonable and fair to void their World Series win and erase it from the record books. Cheaters (should) never prosper.

  7. Agree in which case Manfred not doing enough. Void the world series title. Not easy to get there and the teams the Houston “beat” that season deserve to see the record set straight. An asterisk - Astro’s won a technology-tainted World Series.

  8. The Red Sox will likely have to fire Alex Cora, who is being called a "dead man walking" in multiple online articles. That this scandal is unfolding almost exactly 100 years after the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees is unreal and an amazing coincidence. Is the Curse of Cora going to lead to another 86-year drought for the Red Sox, with no World Series title again until the year 2104? Older Red Sox fans know what it is like to endure a long, dark night so I'm sure they're prepared to deal with the worst. One bright side to all this is that maybe attending a game at Fenway Park will become borderline affordable again.

  9. "Luhnow went on to make an analogy: “In blackjack, the house has a half-percent advantage. If you go from a half down to a half up, you’re going to become a millionaire. But the house doesn’t allow that. That’s why the game is designed the way it is.” In other words, if you count cards or otherwise cheat (at blackjack) you can win a lot of money. But of course, that means you are not following the rules of the game. And every game has rules. Otherwise it is not a game at all. It's just a competition between who can get away with more. Houston should have been penalized much harder. But no matter how severe the penalty, nothing can correct the wrong they did, cheating in the World Series against the Dodgers.

  10. @Van Owen; well said, however, the casino uses multiple decks for blackjack to making counting much much more difficult and less reliable. That's another way of saying go ahead and count, but good luck, Luchnow? Similarly, sign stealing is still legal if you play by old-school standards; no technology, not even binoculars. Not sure if it's ok to take notes pencil/paper in the dugout. Sign stealing will never go away; it's just having to make every team play using the same standards. At some point, catchers' finger signs to the pitcher may become so complex that it will compete with pitching, hitting, and catching.

  11. So, Boras knew about it, which means other players and teams knew. Did the catcher and ump know, as they heard the same signal? This story’s not over.

  12. If some of the video news reports are true, and the methods used were unfortunately neither included in or edited out of the article, there was a link from observing by video, decoding and then relaying the information to someone who banged on a trash can or other noisemaker? Thus, by implication, each and every batter up would have to know some extra information was being communicated, and have reasonable cause to believe there was mischief at hand. Please explain how the players could not reasonably be held to knowing this was not normal procedure from having played on other teams, and how the can-pounder was not prescient?

  13. @reid Why are the players not being punished? Because they have a strong Union and to get them to talk without pleading the fifth the commish had to basically grant them immunity. His number one goal was to get to the bottom of the issue and get the truth out. If he went after the players the entire team would be suspended because they all knew about it and every hitter used it. And although the players are receiving no formal punishment they are going to be punished in the court of public opinion. I am looking forward to seeing the reception the Astros get when they visit Yankee stadium. Bonds was never officially found guilty on the PED issue but it has haunted him over the years. Except for Astro fans their 2017 World Series win will always have the word fraud attached to it.

  14. Union should not protect players who cheat. Would like to see players union set up a mechanism to review this situation and make a statement.

  15. @Gordon Manfred made the decision that the only way to get the full truth out was to grant the players immunity for a full confession. If he would have gone after the players it would have taken months to get the whole truth. Other then the tape of the mid season game with the White Sox and Fiers statement there was little hard evidence. The only way to get the full story out was to make a deal with the players.

  16. Luhnow, still a proud outsider even after working in baseball for several years, had a plan to revolutionize the way teams were built. Yes, the Astros would tank for a couple of seasons, thus earning the right to spend more on amateur talent than other teams. ...They lost nearly 100 games four years in a row. It's fascinating to read how the organization is depicted as savvy, sophisticated, and forward thinking when in reality they simply amassed high draft picks for years on end.

  17. Pete Rose gets banned from baseball for life and will likely never make it to the Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball games but never on his own team. Houston’s manager and GM knew their TEAM was cheating, took no steps to stop it, thereby condoning it, and they get suspended for one year. None of the players (THE ENTIRE TEAM!) involved are punished in any way despite the fact that most, if not all, admitted they were involved and knew they were breaking the rules. The Commissioner said he couldn’t determine levels of culpability of each player so none of them are effected in any way. Seems like a slap on the wrist to The manager and the GM. $5million fine to the team. Meh! MLB has been more than tarnished, it has permanently stained.

  18. @AMC Rose did bet on his own team. He lied in every step of the investigation. Every clubhouse in the entire league has a sign on it that says if you are caught betting on baseball games you face a possible lifetime ban. He was warned. He made a choice. He knew what the possible consequences were. I feel sorry for his gambling addiction but there is a reason there have been very few instances of players getting caught up in gambling scandals since the Black Sox scandal. It's the death penalty.

  19. Yeah, why did Manfred allow two teams play entire seasons 2017-18 with club-sanctioned sophisticated video cheating? Two WS titles now mud spattered with a cheat to win label. Where was MLB? Drinking in NYC bars?

  20. These analytic GMs and managers think they are better and smarter than everyone else, but are too smart for their own good. Looking for every edge, and thinking you have a secret, proprietary way of doing it, eventually leads to other, clandestine, less legal activities that push the boundaries of fairness. Looks like the analytic craze isn’t producing as much of an edge as good, old fashioned cheating and corruption. What MLB needs to do next is investigate the conspiracy, which includes players, and probably two other men that are managing other franchises, Mr. Cora and Mr. Beltran. I hope that the Yankees, my favorite team, are not engaged in anything like this. That would be so disappointing.

  21. @Jasphil The Yankees have already been punished for using electronic devices for sign stealing.

  22. @peter Proof? I did a search and did not find anything. Please link to story.

  23. Why don’t they vacate the Astros WS win? I’m guessing that they would not have won game 7 without cheating. Boy, I bet the next time they play the Dodgers there will be some high and inside pitches thrown. So bad for the game.

  24. The Astros won games 2 and 7 of the WS at Dodger stadium. How could they have cheated using such a system in LA? Also, how would players be able to hear this “trash can” system at the plate from a tunnel near the dugout in a raucous stadium during the playoffs, especially in extra innings at game 5? Does the report even state who used this system? Astros top players did not and do not need it. And Beltran wasn’t even a factor in the WS. The Astros were just the better team that year. I wish all teams good luck moving forward. May the best team win.

  25. Game 7 of the 2017 World Series was at dodgers stadium FWIW.

  26. @Chicanominds Read the report. The reason they know about Cora's and Beltrans involvement in the scheme, the reason they know how they shifted from trash can thumping to vocal cues is because the people involved confessed. The players were granted immunity as long as they told the complete truth. That's why the comish could report that the cheating continued in the playoff's. They played three games in Houston. It was a 4 to 3 series. The fact that they couldn't cheat in LA does not excuse the cheating in Houston. "Astro's top players did not...."You know this how? Has any Astro player come out and said "There was no cheating during the series." No. Because they can't

  27. No wonder their pitchers are unbeatable. Since they clearly cheated during the playoffs and World Series, I don’t understand how they retain their championship titles. These punishments are not enough.

  28. Good article, but Mr. Kepner is too quick to say the Astros title shouldn’t be vacated. It would be intellectually dishonest to do so? No, it wouldn’t. They in fact beat the Dodgers in the World Series? Yes, that’s exactly why they should vacate the title. They compromised the integrity of the game!

  29. @Brian Perkins I am a life long Dodger fan. If MLB vacated the Astros's title I would not be upset. But it wouldn't take away the pain of knowing that at least one, and possibly two World Series were stolen from my beloved Blue. That can't be fixed by taking away the Astros title. And you can't award the title to the Dodgers because there is no gtd. that the Dodgers would have beaten the Yanks. Sad but true.

  30. @Brian Perkins The Astros won games 2 and 7 of the WS at Dodger stadium. How could they have cheated using such a system in LA? Also, how would players be able to hear this “trash can” system at the plate from a tunnel near the dugout in a raucous stadium during the playoffs, especially in extra innings at game 5? Does the report even state who used this system? Astros top players did not and do not need it. And Beltran wasn’t even a factor in the WS. The Astros were just the better team that year. I wish all teams good luck moving forward. May the best team win.

  31. @Chicanominds The report clearly states they were cheating during the playoffs. Why do clubs cheat? because it gives them an edge. Consider what your proposing. They used the camera system, but it did not help them. Then why did they continue to use it? That was a close fought series, with two games going to extra innings. Even if it only helped with one or two at bats that still helped them win. stay in denial all you want but clubs only take the risk of cheating because it helps them win.

  32. Alex Cora and Samuel Kennedy have to be toast. Finished.

  33. It doesn’t surprise me that this sign stealing scheme took place. However, as a Puerto Rican, I am truly embarrassed that Alex Cora played such a prominent part in its development. Roberto Clemente would be just as horrified and embarrassed.

  34. What about Carlos Beltran. He was apparently the player most involved in the 2017 sign stealing scandal. How can The Mets keep him on as their new manager? He is also a black eye for Puerto Rican players and coaches.

  35. Nullify the Astro’s win. Take back the World Series rings, and stick a big asterisk on that date in the record books, “Cheats.” Who’s going to jail for this crime? Thousands of dollars for a ticket to the World Series and it’s a fraudulent game.

  36. @DavidJ .... amen.

  37. Let's keep an eye on the Astros and (now) ex-Astros players' batting averages over the next couple of years.

  38. The Houston Astros are caught cheating by using video monitors, smartphones, and smart watches to relay stolen pitch signs to their batters. But then the final leg of this relay is a player in the dugout banking on a trash can.? “One bang if by land, two if by sea”? Doesn’t seem all that high tech to me

  39. The Weaver analogy is weak. Weaver wasn’t the manager. Buck Weaver never should have been banned from the game for life. Hinch will almost certainly surface again in some dugout role. Regardless, this is all more drama that the MLB doesn’t need.

  40. While I understand the "need" to hold the leadership, manager, coach(es) and GM, accountable regardless of their actual and active involvement/participation, how come the

  41. @db It was a player-driven activity, and no players have been touched. Baseball proves it's just as corrupt and disappointing as the wider world we turn to baseball to temporarily forget.

  42. I'm unconvinced that Mr. Crane knew nothing about the cheating. Particularly after the Comissioner issued the late season warning to the teams; that didn't come from nowhere and certainly should have put the owner, all owners, on notice. In any case, Crane should have put more energy into finding out. Perhaps he didn't want to know. It's not unheard of for billionaires, just like non billionaires to not choose to understand unwelcome facts. As for the $5m fine; might as well have been $5. If the Astros franchise is worth $2b, which would be bargain basement, that's 0.005%. What a deterrent. Mr. Manfred is too skilled in accounting to have missed this. Maybe he believes the ticket and TV watching public believes that $5 mil is a lot of money. Want more cheating? Start dishing out punishments that hurt at the top.

  43. @JS I agree it's pennies, but $5 million is the maximum fine allowed.

  44. It's time to start embracing tech for use of signs in MLB. With all the technology available in today generation, it might be the only way to counter cheating by technology. These systems are hard for opponents to hack/steal signs if done properly. I feel like baseball is still stuck in 1900s with use of hands to tell the pitcher what to throw with the amount of details the current TV are able to pick up. My suggestion is to implement system for a coach designated to telling the pitcher/catcher what pitches to throw and relay the signal to both via digital watch or something only they have access to. Then pitchers/catchers can focus on playing baseball rather than scouting reports and what sets of signs to use.

  45. This seems about right to me. Send a clear message that this has to stop. NOW. Baseball doesn't need another era of scandal. The fine is paltry, but it's the most they could do. But vacating the WS title would be foolish. Should we take away the Giants' 1951 pennant because they were stealing signs? Or just redo the audio: "The Giants steal the pennant! The Giants steal the pennant! The Giants steal the pennant!"

  46. Should there not be forfeiture of some of their games and their title?

  47. What is getting lost in the shuffle is the plausibility of innocence claimed by Hinch and his General Manager. Firstly the buck stops with whomever is in charge. Secondly, if it was going on and you knew about it and did nothing you are guilty of cheating. If you are driving in the car with you 16 year old at the wheel and they are routinely running red lights and stop signs and you say nothing, aren't you guilty? Additionally, it is not believable to say "I didn't participate". The fact that there was an extensive climate of abject cheating under your watch is proof positive you are a cheater. I think the punishments have been too light.

  48. You can ride a hot hand for a while, but the house always wins in the end. Great last line. Great article.

  49. The Astros' cheating started with their front office's belief that they were smarter than everyone else in MLB. The suspension of the Manager and the GM, closely followed by their firing by team owner Jim Crane, isn't enough. As the person ultimately responsible for this wayward baseball team, Crane ought to be forced out of MLB as a necessary step in beginning a total revamping of the toxic culture he allowed to fester in Houston.

  50. This whole scandal explains the success of the Houston Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018 and the flop of the Boston Red Sox in 2019. Cora cheated (2017) and cheated (2018) and then had to stop because of the investigation (2019). Win, win, flop. The punishment should not stop with the managers and general managers. The players should be held to account. Cheating like that out lined in this report has a clear and tangible impact on performance in no way less impactful that steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. The bans should be for life. The Houston Astrocheats and the Boston Red Cheats and their World Series Championcheats should all be excised from baseball.

  51. Eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were banned from the game for Life for deliberately throwing a World Series game. That’s one GAME they deliberately tried to LOSE. The Astros players actively cheated for over two SEASONS. These losers should pay a much bigger price than the White Sox, let alone how Pete Rose was banned and disproportionately punished for betting on games Cincinnati wasn’t even playing against.

  52. I'm sure all the fans who paid for tickets the seasons the Astros chose to tank for better draft choices have a opinion on that "accepted" cheating practice....

  53. Hey, the POTUS sets the tone of the Country. Cheating anyone? If you have kids you have such great role models for them to emulate/worship - just like good Trump Cultists.

  54. @Richard Congratulations on winning today's "Find a Way to Inject Politics into It" award.

  55. Hindsight: look at the photo of Luhnow eyeballing Crane in the handshake. Read his thoughts: I can play this guy like fiddle!

  56. “He coulda been a king,” a woman remarked to a man.... ....And there was also a statement by the baseball commissioner. “If this alleged report is true, that is the last of Roy Hobbs in organized baseball. He will be excluded from the game and all his records forever destroyed.” Roy handed the paper back to the kid. “Say it ain’t true, Roy.” When Roy looked into the boy’s eyes he wanted to say it wasn’t but couldn’t, and he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears. Bernard Malamud, “The Natural”

  57. I say, strip away the Astros' 2017 AL title, award it to the Yankees, and give the WS title to the Yankees, who clearly would've beaten the Dodgers that year. For that matter, I think MLB should investigate the "unexpected" swarm of flying insects that messed up Joba Chamberlain just as he was about to set down the Indians in the 1997 ALDS. But for that, the Yanks would've won five straight WS, 1996-2000. That one still bugs me. Pun intended.

  58. Here's what I don't understand. If the reports of the scheme are valid the Astros banged on a garbage can to alert the batter to an off speed pitch; for a fastball no banging. Adjacent to the batter at all times were two other people, the catcher and the umpire both of whom were within earshot of the signal and well aware of the type of pitch thrown. Without impugning the intelligence of the two companions how could they possibly not recognize the scheme? Supposedly the Astros did this for two years; that's 162 home games. Something just doesn't add up.

  59. Beltran needs to go as well. Cheating is cheating whatever your roll.

  60. So far the repercussions of this uncovered cheating system is puny at best. A $5 million fine because that's the max allowable level? What dinosaur passed that? That's less than the Astros take in per day. One year suspensions are tantamount to a sabbatical/vacation. No mention as to whether they are being paid or whether severance is provided. No way Crane is going to ignore the results these cheats brought to the org. Players including Beltran who actively used and promoted the cheating also deserve strong penalties. Pete Rose is barred from life for placing bets, these guys were personally involved in the cheating in how many games??? This lax handling by the MLB/Commissioner will not deter organized cheating because the upside so clearly dwarfs the downside. Now that sports betting is gaining legalized status, you can expect the smart guys to conceive even more sophisticated cheating systems, Beating a garbage can will go down in MLB history as the second greatest threat to the sports industry right behind drugs.

  61. There is a disturbing disparity in the punishments that MLB has handed down in instances of “cheating”. Buck Weaver, who did NOT cheat but did not report it to MLB receives a lifetime ban from the sport. Why didn’t MLB provide lifetime bans for the personnel who knew of this sign stealing cheating but failed to report it to MLB? Likewise, why did the personnel who knew of Pete Rose gambling and failed to report it also not receive their lifetime bans from the sport? What about those who knew of the steroid use and also failed to report it? Where are their lifetime bans? Finally, if nobody else related to MLB fails to report “cheating” that they are aware of, is ever going to receive a lifetime Buck Weaver can the MLB Commissioner continue to justify not giving him the pardon that so many reasonable, fair minded people believes he deserves?!