A former member of the Houston Astros who played with the team during their 2017 championship season told The Athletic in a new interview that the franchise used a camera to steal signs — and the allegation has now prompted an investigation.
The act of stealing signs is nothing new in baseball. The tactic typically involves a team watching the hand signs used by an opposing team, such as those between a catcher and a pitcher. If a team can interpret what those signs mean, it can give them an advantage when their batter is at the plate.
For instance, if a team figures out that the opposing catcher is calling for a fastball when he raises two fingers to his pitcher, their hitter can benefit from knowing what pitch is coming. According to ESPN, stealing signs isn’t prohibited in the MLB but it is seen as bad etiquette.
What is illegal, however, is using electronic equipment to steal signs — and that is what former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers alleges the team did in 2017.
Fiers, who is now with the Oakland Athletics, told The Athletic that Houston used a hidden video feed to observe opponents’ pitching signs.
He claimed they used a camera that was mounted in center-field, and team members would watch the video from a hidden monitor near the team’s bench. If they believed they had interpreted the signal, he alleged that they would communicate it to their hitter by making a loud noise, such as banging on a garbage can.
After the report was released, one Twitter user found footage from a game that seems to match up with Fiers’ claims, and loud bangs can be heard while an Astros hitter is up at-bat.
“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”
While the report says that the Astros did not use the tactic during away games, and couldn’t implement it in their 2017 World Series matchup against the Los Angeles Dodgers, a Reddit user found a potential example from Game 5 of an audible whistle being used while an Astros player was at bat.
“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers said. “Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It’s [B.S.] on that end. It’s ruining jobs for younger guys.”
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“The guys who know are more prepared,” he continued. “But most people don’t. That’s why I told my team. We had a lot of young guys with Detroit [in 2018] trying to make a name and establish themselves. I wanted to help them out and say, ‘Hey, this stuff really does go on. Just be prepared.'”
This isn’t the first time a team has been caught using technology to get a real-time advantage during games. The Boston Red Sox, the 2018 World Series champions, were caught using an Apple Watch to steal signs during the 2017 season.
“It’s an issue that permeates through the whole league,” an anonymous major league manager told The Athletic. “The league has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”
In a statement obtained by ESPN, the Astros said they have begun an investigation with the MLB into the allegations.
“Regarding the story posted by The Athletic earlier today, the Houston Astros organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball,” the statement read. “It would not be appropriate to comment further on this matter at this time.