Sidelines: this week in sports

Photo Credit: Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Photo Credit: Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Astros once again find themselves in the middle of controversy

I’m basically going to use this column as an excuse to write an opinion piece about something that is very unfortunate but sadly prominent in the game of baseball: cheating. Whether it’s gambling, steroids or now sign stealing, cheating, for whatever reason, seems to pop up on the diamond more than any other sport.

It was recently discovered that the Houston Astros had been electronically stealing signs during the 2017 season where they ultimately went on to win the World Series. Now sign stealing has always been a part of the game, but the Astros were doing something completely different. For lack of a better word, ethical sign stealing is such a difficult but impressive skill and something that I’m all for; I can watch videos breaking down how pitchers are tipping pitches for hours upon end. When a batter or a team can tell what pitch is coming just by observing the pitcher and catcher, then kudos to them, go smack that breaking ball for a single.

But what the Astros were doing is completely different and a disgrace to the game of baseball.

They had a feed from a centre field camera locked in on the catcher’s crouch that was displayed on a monitor in the Astros’ clubhouse. They had a person — yes this was someone’s job — closely watching the feed to determine which pitch was coming. They placed a garbage bin right next to the desk. A couple bangs on the garbage can? Offspeed. Nothing? Fastball. Eventually they got to the point of having a different number of bangs for each pitch. One bang? Slider. Two? Change. None? Fastball.

If you haven’t already seen, I encourage you to watch a quick YouTube video by the great Jomboy (just search Jomboy Astros) who does a fantastic job of breaking down the system. It’s faint, but you can clearly hear two bangs just seconds after the catcher flashes the changeup. It’s humanly impossible to pick up on the sign and then relay it to the batter that quickly.

And the opponents knew too, or at least they partially did. They probably didn’t know the extent of the ruse, but in the aforementioned Jomboy video you can clearly see the opposing pitcher, Danny Farquhar, realizing something’s fishy. A lot of the intel came from former players, most notably Mike Fiers who was with the Astros for part of the 2017 year. Trevor Plouffe confirmed he knew about it from a couple of people, as did most of the young Detroit Tigers roster, who Fiers told when he played there.

So just to recap, in the past month, the Astros lost the World Series, had to fire their assistant general manager after he made taunting remarks to female reporters about a wife-beater and have now been caught in an egregious scandal that severely damaged the integrity of the league. It was a little hard to tell, because the on-field product was so good, but the Astros have really shown to be an awful organization. They are among, if not the best in the league at drafting, developing players and fixing flumixed pitchers, but have a horrible team culture, something that is a very real thing in sports.

Baseball is already stretched for fandom and support — this does nothing else but give people a reason to stop watching a slowly dying sport. And it sucks.

Just look at the Astros hitters’ splits from that 2017 World Series: Jose Altuve hit .472 at home and .143 on the road. Carlos Correa; .371 at home, .211 on the road. Alex Bregman; .273 home, .154 away. Brian McCann; .300 home, .037 away. Evan Gattis; .300 home, .200 away. The one outlier is Yuli Gurriel who hit .303 at home and .306 on the road (who was caught making racist gestures towards Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish in the same series).

The Dodgers, who have become one of baseball’s most cursed franchises, was one game away from winning that 2017 World Series. They lost in seven that year, lost in five to Boston the next year and have still not won a championship since 1988. They should have won in ‘17.

I hope Major League Baseball cracks down on the punishments. The use of steroids gets you minimum of 80 games. How is this any better? In fact, it’s actually worse than steroids when you consider that every hitter had access to this. This is like if all nine hitters took steroids for every home game. Barry Bonds was just one guy, but this is all nine guys with a clear advantage over the opponent.

Like many folks have already stated on social media, people got sent down to the minors after getting lit up in Houston. People lost their jobs, positions, loads of money. It’s a big deal. Let’s hope MLB holds no mercy.

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