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The Astros sign-stealing and cheating scandal, explained

One of the heaviest penalties in MLB history was handed down for a sign-stealing scandal.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred handed down punishment to the Houston Astros for sign-stealing and cheating tactics employed by the team during the 2017 World Series-winning season and into 2018. As a result the team fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, and will now look to rebuild their baseball operation.

Luhnow and Hinch were suspended for one year for their role in the scandal. Astros owner Jim Crane later announced that both men were fired for their role in the scheme. In addition, the Astros were fined $5 million for cheating, as well as losing their first- and second-round picks in 2020 and 2021.

Now-Red Sox manager, Alex Cora — who served as bench coach for the Astros during the 2017 season, was not punished under the announcement. MLB also held a separate investigation to determine if the Red Sox employed similar sign-stealing techniques in 2018. Cora would be fired, then rehired by the team.

According to Manfred’s investigation report, the following was determined:

  • In 2017, the Astros’ video replay room used live video feeds mid-game to learn and decode signs used by the catcher. The decoded signs were then relayed to a player who would act as a “runner” to relay information to the dugout. The report notes that Cora called the replay review room to obtain the information, which he would then share with players. In addition, Astros players worked together at the start of the season to improve the sign-stealing process, including installing a TV outside the dugout to make the process more efficient. Cora is listed as being the only non-player who organized the scheme.
  • When the Red Sox were caught stealing signals during the 2017 season, the club was fined. Following the 2017-18 season, the MLB warned teams against stealing signals and emphasized that use of using replay or video rooms to decode signals was strictly banned.
  • In response to the MLB’s ruling, the Astros, during the 2018 season, relocated their video replay room directly behind their dugout. Here, they were able to institute a “banging scheme,” which involved hitting trash cans either manually or with massage guns to relay information. One bang represented an off-speed pitch, while two indicated a fast ball, according to MLB documents.
  • Astros players did not attempt to hide what they were doing during the 2017 season, but knew it was against the rules. One incident describes a “sense of panic” sweeping over players when they believed White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar was onto the sign-stealing scheme, allegedly noticing players banging on trash cans in the dugout. At this point, players removed a monitor in the hallway used to track signs and placed it in an office, in case an investigation took place. A portable monitor was set up on a table for the postseason.
  • Astros players believed the sign-stealing scheme lost its efficacy midway through the 2018 season. They believed it was becoming more of a distraction for hitters than a boon, though the findings do not support either belief.

The punishments levied in the MLB investigation were based on the following:

  • While Jeff Luhnow didn’t specifically organize or implement the sign-stealing scheme, he was aware of what was taking place and made no efforts to stop it. The MLB report alleges that had Luhnow taken steps to stop the scheme in September 2017, it would have ceased.
  • A.J. Hinch did not support the sign-stealing scheme. In fact, the report notes that Hinch physically damaged the monitor used to watch signs on two separate occasions, a move believed to show his displeasure for the practice. However, MLB notes that, much like Luhnow, he did not make any efforts to stop players from stealing signs after learning about the scheme.
  • Of the people mentioned in the report, it’s Alex Cora who is most directly implicated. Not only was Cora instrumental in developing the sign-stealing program, but actively participated and condoned its use while with the Astros. His punishment is pending a further investigation into the 2018 Red Sox, where he served as manager, with allegations the team used a similar scheme.

Jim Crane, owner of the Houston Astros, held a press conference on Monday to discuss the findings. He called it a “very difficult day” for the organization, adding that the team fully cooperated with investigators throughout the process.

Crane said he wanted to go beyond the MLB’s penalties against Luhnow and Hinch, dismissing both men and saying the team would make new hires to usher in a “new era” of Astros baseball. Crane noted that both the general manager and manager had responsibilities to report the improprieties outlined in the report and failed to do so — which is what led to their dismissal.

While Crane admitted the faults found in the report, he disagreed with Manfred’s assertion the baseball organization was “problematic,” saying he took pride in rooting out any lingering problems as a result of the findings. Crane was adamant that the sign-stealing scheme did not change the result of the 2017 season and believes the report did not tarnish the World Series win.