This offseason, when it was revealed that the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox stole signs, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred had the chance to make it clear that sign-stealing wouldn’t be permitted in any way, shape or form around the sport. Instead, he seemed to sweep it under the rug and state that teams won’t get severely punished.
On Nov. 12, The Athletic revealed that in 2017, the Astros — when they won the World Series — participated in an elaborate plot where players watched a live feed from a video camera beyond the centerfield fence to pick up the opposing catcher’s signs to the pitcher. After translating the signs, someone would bang on a trash can a certain number of times to let the hitter know what pitch was being thrown.
After a two-month investigation, MLB announced its findings and suspended Astros manager A.J. Hinch and Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow for one season on Jan. 13. Both were promptly fired by Astros owner Jim Crane just hours later. All of the Astros’ players were pardoned for cooperating with the investigation.
In the report, Manfred said that Alex Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 and one of the ringleaders in the scheme, would have his suspension levied following the investigation into the Red Sox, as he was Boston’s manager in 2018 and 2019.
MLB revealed its findings in the Red Sox investigation on April 22. The MLB said that J.T. Watkins, a Boston video replay system operator, revised sign sequence information and possibly relayed it to some players; Watkins was suspended for the 2020 season.
With these responses, MLB has taken the stance that sign-stealing is tolerated these days. With the Astros, it was clear that many players, even if they didn’t use it themselves, were still aware of it and didn’t do anything to stop it.
Therefore, suspending some of Houston’s key players — like infielders Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman and outfielder George Springer — would’ve sent the message that no player, regardless of how good, is safe from suspension. In addition, stripping the Astros of their 2017 World Series title would have told any team looking for even the slightest advantage that sign-stealing doesn’t pay-off.
It’s alarming that no players from the Astros were suspended. When players get caught using performance-enhancing drugs, it’s deemed cheating and they’re suspended. Many of Houston’s players cheated and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to play, regardless if they complied with MLB’s investigation.
As for the Red Sox, this is the second time in three years that Boston has been caught stealing signs. According to the New York Times, in September 2017, the Red Sox admitted that they’d been using an Apple Watch to steal signs from the New York Yankees. This suggests that there’s a problem within the Red Sox organization, and they should’ve been punished more for this recent scandal.
Cora, who was fired by the Red Sox on Jan. 14, was suspended for the 2020 season only for his conduct with the Astros, as Manfred found that he wasn’t aware of Watkins’ actions. Like with Houston’s punishment, no players were punished.
However, it’s clear that Cora failed to install a culture where cheating wouldn’t be allowed. Therefore, he’s responsible for the actions the few players took, and he should’ve been suspended even longer than he was.
Manfred could’ve made a statement this offseason that sign-stealers were going to be severely punished, but he didn’t. Instead, by not seriously condemning the Astros and Red Sox, the MLB sent the message that cheating is OK in this era, and that’s disappointing.
Contact Joshua Gingrich at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.