When news of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scheme went public in Autumn 2019, it did so with a, uh, bang. MLB scrambled to investigate, found out the Astros had indeed been cheating in the way Mike Fiers described to reporters from The Athletic, and unleashed what we might call, if we err on the side of vast understatement, a massive shitstorm. Draft picks were stripped. Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow was suspended and fired. So was their manager A.J. Hinch. Even the New York Mets got involved when they were forced to ditch the recently appointed Carlos Beltran, because nothing ever happens in baseball without messing with the Mets.
For a little while — five or 10 minutes, at least — MLB’s response seemed robust enough. But as we found out more, the investigation started to appear almost ludicrously inept, focusing the blame on Beltran and ex-Houston bench coach Alex Cora. Nevermind that there were other players involved. Nevermind the Astros front office had developed an application called ‘Codebreaker’ explicitly designed to pick up opposing players signs. Did any of this come up? Of course not. The investigation was either inept or maliciously opaque.
And if there was any doubt as to which of those explanations we should be leaning towards, former Oakland Athletics catcher Jonathan Lucroy has suggested that the A’s, for whom Fiers briefly pitched in 2018, reported the cheating to MLB only to get more or less ignored:
It was crazy, some of the pitches they would take. It was like, ‘Man, these guys are some of the best hitters I’ve ever seen.’ It all made sense when I found out how they were doing it. Then it was like, ‘What are we going to do?’ I was with Oakland, and we had let MLB know, and they just called and said something. They didn’t go through the whole investigation. It wasn’t until Fiers came out publicly that they went and looked at it really hard.
Fiers has been criticized by several around the game for going public, including David Ortiz, who went after him for staying quiet while he was winning a World Series with the Astros only to ‘snitch’ later. Which is fair enough, I suppose — it’s difficult to claim the moral high ground about cheating if you let yourself benefit from it first. But at the same time, with MLB doing their best to turn a blind eye until this all went public, it’s difficult to imagine any complaint through the proper channels ever going anywhere.
There is not a great deal of faith in MLB leadership right now, from players or fans. And they only really have themselves to blame.