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The extreme hilarity of the Astros sign-stealing scandal cannot be ignored

The Astros cheating scandal is bad, but mostly it’s really funny.

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Ex-Astros manager A.J. Hinch and former bench coach Alex Cora talk in the Houston dugout in 2017.
MLB via Getty Images

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a competitive baseball team in possession of an opposition must also be in want of their signs. However little known the feelings or views of such a team may be, on the other hand, this truth is only meant to extend so far. Old-fashioned sign-stealing is encouraged. Space-age sign-stealing is ... not.

By now I expect everyone has heard of the Houston Astros’ perfidy and the subsequent punishment. If not, a recap: the team was caught using the center field camera to spy on the signs opposing catchers use to call pitches. Their video room staff then decoded the signs, which were passed on to Astros hitters via the high-tech method of whacking a trash can with a baseball bat. Silence? A fastball. BANG BANG? Not-a-fastball. This, as Astros team on-base percentage will suggest, is helpful information.

It’s also illegal to gather and use that information via electronic means, which is why the Astros are now down two first-round draft picks, two second-round picks, $5 million, their general manager and their more specific manager. MLB aren’t finished here, either: the Boston Red Sox will be next under the commissioner’s baleful glare. Baseball is taking these rules violations extremely seriously, as they must.

But that doesn’t mean that they are serious. Divorced from the weird reality sports fashions about itself — a weird reality that breaks children's hearts, ruins careers, creates toxic cultures, and throws billions of dollars around like nothing, admittedly — this is a deeply silly scandal, and ought to be treated that way.

Keeping the baseball world on tenterhooks over what, in the final analysis, involves beating the shit out of a clubhouse trash can? Hilarious. The hubris required to assume that they wouldn’t be caught in a scheme which necessitated the knowledge of, at minimum, every hitter on the team? Hilarious. Jeff Luhnow’s response?

I am not a cheater. Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. I did not know rules were being broken. As the Commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct: The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach. I am deeply upset that I wasn’t informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.


Can we honestly take a scandal seriously when a section of the report on said scandal includes the anecdote that at one point a group of players, concerned about getting caught in the act by Chicago White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar, dismounted the monitor they were using to cheat mid-game and hid it in a spare office?

If the idea of a troupe of millionaire athletes hustling through the dugout and into the warren of tunnels under the stadium so that they can frantically disassemble a television bracket (“THE SCREW IS STRIPPING! SHIT! WHERE’S THE FUCKING PHILLIPS HEAD??!”) doesn’t tickle you in a profound way I have no idea what we’re doing here.

Anyway. This is a very serious scandal which has cost opposing teams wins, pitchers across the league money and opportunities, and perhaps some young Astros fans their innocence. It is also, fundamentally, a story about some dudes watching television and thwacking a trash can. BANG. BANG. BANGBANGBANG.