Focus at Four: Astros Cheating Scandal

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 6:34 PM CST
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Sign stealing has been around about as long as the sport of baseball.

Sign stealing is the practice of meticulously watching the opposing team to catch certain gestures that are indicators for what they intend to do next. Signs can involve pitching, base running, batting, and even fielding.

From the early days of a man in centerfield with a pair of binoculars, to players on second trying to relay signals to the dugout, to having a coach stand on a box rigged with wires sending signals in his feet to tip him off (it happened, look it up), baseball is riddled with cheating.

In the unwritten rules of baseball, sign stealing is just an accepted practice. The responsibility falls on the team giving signs to recognize when the opposition has decoded the messages and make adjustments.

Now that's not to say there haven't been controversies. As with seemingly all of baseball's unwritten rules, someone has something to complain about.

But in the case of the Houston Astros, they took what baseball considers to be a sacred skill of gamesmanship and sullied it with technology (at least that's how the MLB sees it).

By installing a camera in center field with a live feed to a monitor in the dugout, players were able to figure out what pitch was coming and notify the batter before the pitch arrived at the plate.

Knowing that a 100+ mph fastball is coming down the plate is not only a huge advantage for the batter but in essence, renders a pitcher's fastball useless.

The magic of a three-digit fastball is that a batter must begin his swing almost before he even sees the ball leave the pitcher's hand. According to a 2017 Seattle Times article, the batter has less than 350 milliseconds to decide whether or not he will swing on a 100 mph fastball.

But controlling a fastball is hard so, many pitches simply attempt to put the ball over the plate without any real idea of where the ball will cross the plate. That gives a hitter that knows what pitch he's about to get at an unbelievable advantage.

Armed with the knowledge of all these different factors that go into one of the harshest penalties in the history of baseball, we sat down with baseball historian and Texas A&M professor, David Vaught to understand exactly why this (outside of the sports world) wasn't a bigger deal.

His answer?

In short, money.

"These are professionals," Vaught said. "They're getting paid to win. They're not worried about whether something's right or wrong or immoral. They're worried about what are the chances I'm gonna get caught, and if I get caught, what's the penalty gonna be?"

In the case of the 2017 World Series Champion Houston Astros, nothing. No players were reprimanded. No wins were taken away. Just a $5 million fine, the loss of four picks in the MLB draft, and the termination of two administrative employees in manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.

On the other hand, according to, the Astros' organization made nearly $50 million more in the championship 2017 season than its 2016 season.

Sports are a business. Plain and simple. Everyone, from the players all the way up to the owners, are looking to make money.

And what's the best way to make money in sports?

In the immortal words of Al Davis "Just win, baby."

Watch the complete interview in the player above.

For references, refer to the related links section.

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