2:40pm: Major League Baseball has issued the following statement on the investigation:
“Before the Postseason began, a number of Clubs called the Commissioner’s Office about sign stealing and the inappropriate use of video equipment. The concerns expressed related to a number of Clubs, not any one specific Club. In response to these calls, the Commissioner’s Office reinforced the existing rules with all playoff Clubs and undertook proactive measures, including instituting a new prohibition on the use of certain in-stadium cameras, increasing the presence of operations and security personnel from Major League Baseball at all Postseason games and instituting a program of monitoring Club video rooms.
With respect to both incidents regarding a Houston Astros employee, security identified an issue, addressed it and turned the matter over to the Department of Investigations. A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing Club was not violating any rules. All Clubs remaining in the playoffs have been notified to refrain from these types of efforts and to direct complaints about any in-stadium rules violations to MLB staff for investigation and resolution. We consider the matter closed.”
8:45am: There was no shortage of drama surrounding the Red Sox and Astros last night following a series of reports regarding an Astros employee who was removed from the photo well next to the Red Sox’ dugout in Fenway Park during Game 1 of the ALCS, as first reported by Danny Picard of the Metro News. The employee, reported by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan to be Kyle McLaughlin, was said to be pointing a small camera into the Boston dugout. However, both Alex Speier of the Boston Globe and Joel Sherman of the New York Post report that the league’s investigation was concluded by the time Game 3 began. That probe actually revealed that McLaughlin was trying to determine whether the Red Sox themselves were illegally using video monitors to steal signs from the Astros.
Passan writes that the league has not punished the Astros for any illegal behavior following the investigation. Picard’s initial report even indicates that McLaughlin wasn’t removed from the stadium — only the media area in which he’d been set up. However, it does not appear as though this was an isolated incident.
Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer further reports that the Indians filed a complaint with the league against the Astros following a pair of similar incidents in the ALDS and also reached out to the Red Sox to warn them prior to the start of the ALCS. Passan also details a complaint filed by the Athletics, who alleged that the Astros were using a clapping-based system from the dugout to relay stolen signs to the players on the field during an August game. To this point, though, there’s been no word on whether Houston was punished in that incident.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski does not believe the matter had any influence on the outcome of Game 1, which Boston lost 7-2. Red Sox manager (and former Astros bench coach) Alex Cora agreed. The series of complaints against the Astros, Sherman notes, could stem in part from a reputation in the industry that portrays them as a “[New England] Patriots-like” organization — that is, one that “pushes to the limits of the rules — and perhaps beyond.” Passan adds that some clubs are “wary” that Houston may utilize its Edgertronic ballpark cameras, which can record 2,000 frames per second, in sign-stealing schemes.
As Passan notes, however, the Astros aren’t the only organization that has been accused of this manner of sign-stealing efforts. While he doesn’t cite specific teams that have been placed under the microscope, it’s worth remembering that the Red Sox themselves were fined in 2017 for illegal use of an Apple Watch in the dugout in an effort to steal signs from the division-rival Yankees. The Yankees, too, were also fined for violating a rule pertaining to the use of the dugout phone, and there have been similar reports that other teams believe the Yankees use the YES Network to steal signs from opponents. Back in 2015, the Royals believed the Blue Jays were stealing signs during the 2015 ALCS (to say nothing of the infamous “man in white” conspiracy in Toronto a few years prior).
If anything, the series of reports serves as a reminder and/or an eye-opener that most, if not all teams throughout the league are willing to push the boundaries and utilize technology in an effort to gain a competitive edge. It’s arguable that these tactics are of in the spirit of more “traditional” sign-stealing methods that have been employed for decades (e.g. runner on second base looking in on a catcher’s signs), though the advent of technology obviously presents new methods of gaining that edge — methods that exist in what is at best an ethical gray area.
The utilization of technology in sign-stealing efforts isn’t likely to go away, and it’ll continue to force teams and players into more rigorous efforts to protect signs. Hoynes notes in his column that Cleveland worked so diligently to protect its signs in the weeks leading up to the ALDS that the efforts “bordered on paranoia.” Players, too, recognize the need for increased caution.
“It’s part of the game now,” Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart tells Speier. “…The game is changing. It’s making it tougher. You see a lot of pitchers and catchers get crossed up now — it’s crazy. The game sequences, the signals that you come up with are crazy. You’ve just got to stay in tune with everything.”
Perhaps the greater issue in all of this, Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston writes, is Major League Baseball’s lack of transparency on matters of this regard. As Drellich examines, the lack of clear rules in place and the unnecessarily hushed manner in which the league handles such scenarios only incentivizes teams to continue rule-bending/breaking and to make accusations in the first place.