Home / Sports / What is sign stealing? Making sense of Major League Baseball’s latest scandal.

What is sign stealing? Making sense of Major League Baseball’s latest scandal.



Is it illegal to steal signs in MLB?




Nope. It’s accepted tradition. Players and coaches try to steal their opponents’ signs, but they’ve traditionally done so mostly by watching the other team and trying to recognize patterns or sequences. Sign-stealing is as old as baseball itself. But stealing signs using camera, binoculars or other objects foreign to the game is illegal. Major League Baseball took steps to curtain sign-stealing in the digital age during the most recent offseason, according to multiple media reports. That followed a series of allegations of teams stealing signs using electronic means. In 2017, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had warned teams about electronic sign-stealing, while fining the Boston Red Sox for “sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.”

How did the Astros steal signs?

The Astros used a camera positioned in center field at Minute Maid Park to decode the signs from the catcher to the pitcher and inform the batter what kind of pitch was on the way. That camera was used by the team’s replay room, whose operators were supposed to help Manager A.J. Hinch decide whether to challenge an umpire’s call. But in addition to those duties, former bench coach Alex Cora (the now-former manager of the Boston Red Sox) instructed the replay room to relay the decoded information to a player, who would share it with teammates. That information was variously shared using the dugout phone, the cellphone of a staff member on the bench or another cellphone stored nearby.

Eventually, the Astros installed a video monitor displaying the same footage just outside the dugout so players could look at the video themselves. Players would bang on a trash can with a bat to signal to the hitter at the plate what pitch was coming. “Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches,” according to Manfred’s investigative report, “while no bang corresponded to a fastball.”

When did the Astros start stealing signs?

The Astros started stealing signs using the replay room at the beginning of the 2017 season, the same season they defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, four games to three, to win Houston’s first World Series. The team began using the monitor outside the dugout two months into the season.

The replay room scheme was revived during the 2018 season, but stopped sometime before the playoffs began. MLB’s investigation did not find any evidence that the sign-stealing racket continued into the 2019 season, when the Astros lost the World Series to the Washington Nationals, four games to three.

How did the Astros get caught?

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers said. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

But unnamed sources who spoke with the Athletic said Houston was far from the only club breaking MLB’s rules by using technology to steal signs.

“It’s an issue that permeates through the whole league,” one major league manager said. “The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”

Who got fired from the Astros?

Let’s start with who got punished. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Manager Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow for the 2020 season. Manfred also banned Brandon Taubman, the team’s former assistant general manager, from working for MLB or any of its clubs for the 2020 season, after which he can apply for reinstatement, over a separate matter. Manfred also stripped the Astros of their first- and second-round selections in the 2020 and 2021 drafts, and fined the franchise $5 million.

Who else in baseball might be implicated?

Mainly, attention has focused on Alex Cora, who was the manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2018 and 2019. He was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 and the architect of the sign-stealing scheme, according to the commissioner’s report. Manfred chose not to discipline Cora yet, because MLB is conducting a separate investigation into alleged illegal sign-stealing by the Red Sox in 2018, the year the team defeated the Dodgers in the World Series. Manfred said he was withholding punishment on Cora until that inquiry concludes.

What did Alex Cora do?

The commissioner’s report frames Cora as a central figure in the sign-stealing operation.

“Early in the [2017] season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ bench coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information,” the report states.

“Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout,” it says later.

Those are both clear violations of MLB’s rules on sign-stealing and in-game technology use. Cora, the report states, was the highest level Astros official with direct involvement in illegal sign-stealing, and, according to media reports, brought a similar regime to Boston when he began serving as the team’s manager in 2018.

Has Alex Cora been punished yet?

“Given the findings and the commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward,” the Red Sox said in a statement.

But Cora has not been punished by MLB. Manfred said in the report that he would wait to levy any sort of penalty against Cora until a separate investigation into sign-stealing by the Red Sox was complete.

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