By: Sean Youngberg
Cheaters never prosper, or so we’ve all been told. But starting in 2017, the Houston Astros began stealing signs and cheating in ways the baseball world had never seen before, propelling them to two World Series appearances, and one win, in three seasons.
Mike Fiers, a pitcher for the Astros during the 2017 season, detailed the Astos’ cheating in an interview with The Athletic in 2019. According to Fiers, the Astros used cameras in centerfield to film the opposing catchers signals, then team staffers from the dugout would use specific audio cues – such as slapping the sides of garbage cans – to tell batters which pitch was coming. Some even speculated that Astros players would wear buzzers under their jerseys, allowing for certain zaps to tell them which pitch would be coming.
Major League Baseball opened an investigation into the Astros and found they had, in fact, illegally used cameras to steal signs from the beginning of 2017, the year they won the World Series, until midway through the 2018 season. The MLB found no evidence, however, that they cheated in 2019, another year that they made a trip to the World Series, ultimately losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games.
The scandal dominated baseball during the entire offseason, with players across the league speaking out against the Astros actions and their lack of integrity. These feelings grew to a boiling point when the Astros players faced absolutely no discipline whatsoever.
After they were all given immunity by the league if they cooperated with the investigation, they faced no suspensions, no fines or anything of the sort. To make matters worse, Astros players seemed unapologetic about the entire situation, carrying themselves if they had done nothing wrong.
Needless to say, the Astros became public enemy number one. Everyone was rooting for them and each player on that roster to fail. As the shortened, 60-game 2020 season got underway, the Astros had a new coach, Dusty Baker, and the entire baseball universe wishing they’d fail.
They looked bad.
Jose Altuve, 2017 MVP, hit an embarrassing .219, Alex Bregman, their five-tool third baseman hit an abysmal .242, and their other two brightest stars, shortstop Carlos Correa and outfielder George Springer, were barely able to break .260.
With a 29-31 record, they were still able to sneak into the postseason. Once they got there, much to the dismay of baseball fans, they turned it on a little bit.
Correa proved he was a bonafide star, with 17 hits, six home runs, 17 RBI, hitting a crazy .362. It’s a shame, because he joins the ranks of players like Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds who didn’t have to cheat to be great.
Although Bregman and Springer still played pretty bad, Jose Altuve woke up at the plate, hitting .375 in 13 games. The Astros got past the Minnesota Twins, who have literally lost 18 playoff games in a row, and the Oakland A’s on their way to an ALCS matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays where they found themselves down 3-0.
Only one team had ever come back from down 3-0, the Boston Red Sox, who came back against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, eventually winning the World Series that year. Soon, it appeared that history was set to repeat itself, as the Astros took each of the next three games against the Rays, forcing a winner take all game seven.
This couldn’t happen, right? The Astros limped into the playoffs with their heads down, no way they could possibly make their third World Series in four seasons, especially since they aren’t cheating anymore, right?
Right! While the MLB community collectively held their breath, the Rays closed out the Astros in game seven. I guess they just wanted to make it interesting.
There is a deep-rooted disdain for the Astros throughout baseball now, and those feelings aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Cheating in a sport so based in tradition is a death wish, and the Astros response to criticism from the league and other athletes throughout baseball only made the animosity towards their organization grow stronger.
Hopefully next season will be a full one, and we can get an even better look at who and what the Astros are without cameras, buzzers and trash cans.