Cleverness is Punished

14 January 2020


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Astros Sign Stealing Scandal is Baseball Farce


The Houston Astros are the 2019 World Series Champs. Their GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch ought to be spending a last week or so in the sun ahead of spring training, having blown a large portion of their championship bonuses on frivolities. Instead, they are out of work having been banned from baseball for a year and having been fired. Their crime was using video technology to steal signals from opposing teams. The rules here are second only to the designated hitter for stupidity.

Bench coach Alex Cora, who may yet be punished, was the main culprit along with player Carlos Beltran. The commissioners report says, "At the beginning of the 2017 season, employees in the Astros' video replay review room began using the live game feed from the center field camera to attempt to decode and transmit opposing teams’ sign sequences (i.e., which sign flashed by the catcher is the actual sign) for use when an Astros runner was on second base. Once the sign sequence was decoded, a player in the video replay review room would act as a 'runner' to relay the information to the dugout, and a person in the dugout would notify the players in the dugout or signal the sign sequence to the runner on second base, who in turn would decipher the catcher’s sign and signal to the batter from second base. Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros' Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information."

Eventually, they improved on this. The NY Daily News reports, "the way the Astros' 'banging scheme' worked is that the center field camera feed was sent to a monitor near the dugout, and an employee would bang on a trash can signaling what pitch was coming."

Stealing the signals by which the pitcher and catcher decide what the next pitch is has been a part of baseball since the first game was played. Indeed, it is so common that, when a runner reaches second and can readily see any signals from the catcher, some teams change signals. The current rules don't forbid stealing signs. They prohibit the use of video equiment to do so. Why?

There is no good reason. If one is clever enough to discover the signals of the other side, it gives one an advantage, perhaps. Craftiness is rewarded, and it should be. There is a mental aspect to baseball that is under-appreciated.

At the same time, this is the same sport that gave the world Moneyball, the statistical analysis of players to such a degree that it threatened to put scouts out of business. If one can mathematically use statistical analysis to create a stronger team, why is other technology banned for an action that is not prohibited when done without the tech? It is as if breaking the Enigma code in World War II were somehow not gentlemanly.

The fact of the matter is that the theft of signs is possible only when the pitcher and catcher are sloppy about the signs. Using the same signals all season is too easy. Changing them for every game is not sufficient. Speaking Navajo was good enough for the Marines in the Pacific fighting the Japanese, why baseball players can't use an Altaic language or Klingon to discuss whether a curve or screwball is coming next is unfathomable. Banging a trash can is shamefully juvenile by comparison.

Messrs. Luhnow and Hinch are out of work not because they arranged this violation of a stupid rule but because they did not do enough to prevent it.

The investigation revealed no evidence to suggest that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme. The investigation also revealed that Luhnow neither devised nor actively directed the efforts of the replay review room staff to decode signs in 2017 or 2018.”

Nevertheless, “While Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs, there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.”

Meanwhile, "Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement . . . . However, Hinch admits he did not stop it and he did not notify players or Cora that he disapproved of it, even after the Red Sox were disciplined in September 2017.” 

This is not justice. This is not good for baseball. This is mediocrity winning out.

© Copyright 2020 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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