The Astros’ sign-stealing scandal has been the dominant story in baseball over the past several weeks, though it didn’t come as a revelation to many throughout the game. A scout from another team told Barry Svrluga and Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post: “It was a big open secret, really big. Throughout baseball, throughout the scouting community, for several years, not just starting in 2017. I would say probably 2016, maybe earlier, through , things were going on that were blatantly against the rules.”
If true, it further calls into question the Astros’ accomplishments in recent years. They amassed 100-plus victories in each of the past three campaigns, won the World Series in 2017 and took home the American League pennant a season ago. GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for a year apiece last month and lost their jobs as a result of their complicity in stealing signs during the team’s title-winning season. Luhnow, it seems, was a key part of a scheme called “Codebreaker” that the team used from 2017-18.
It’s possible neither Luhnow nor Hinch will work in the majors again as a result of their wrongdoing. That would’ve sounded ridiculous last fall when the Astros were the toast of the AL and vying for a World Series against the Nationals. The Nats upended the Astros in seven games, but Washington entered the Fall Classic wary of Houston’s shenanigans.
“It was amazing, once [it was assured] we were playing the Astros, how many people were coming out of the woodwork to let us know what they were doing,” one member of the Nationals told Svrluga and Sheinin.
Second baseman Brian Dozier, a National last season and a 2018 member of the Dodgers (whom the Astros took down in the 2017 World Series), received advance warning from his ex-LA teammates that Houston was behaving unethically. “Several” members of the Dodgers informed Dozier before last year’s World Series that the Astros were stealing signs, according to Svrluga and Sheinin. Meanwhile, former Astros and Nationals reliever Tony Sipp told Nats ace Max Scherzer to worry about Houston’s stealing of signs. The Nationals ended up overcoming it by using wristbands and multiple signs, as Svrluga and Sheinin explain in their piece.
The Astros advanced to the 2019 World Series by defeating the Yankees in the ALCS for the second time in three years. Like the Nationals, the Yankees suspected something was amiss.
“We’re so focused on them cheating, we’re forgetting we have to just go out and play,” one Yankees official said before the series, which the Astros ultimately won in six games.
Outfielder Carlos Beltran and catcher Brian McCann, both now retired from playing, are in the unique position of having suited up for the Astros and Yankees recently. Beltran even worked for the Yankees as a special advisor last season, and he informed “low level” New York officials of Houston’s cheating, per Ken Rosenthal, Evan Drellich and Marc Carig of The Athletic (subscription link). Beltran then became the Mets’ manager this past fall, only to lose his job last month as a result of the Astros’ violations.
While Beltran initially denied any knowledge of the Astros’ misdeeds, the 42-year-old potential Hall of Famer was apparently an important figure in them. McCann asked him to stop, two members of the 2017 Astros told The Athletic, but Beltran “steamrolled everybody.” At that point, he was one of the most accomplished individuals on the roster and someone whom younger players (and even Hinch) were basically reluctant to cross.
Beltran was part of commissioner Rob Manfred’s investigation into the Astros, but the latter elected against punishing any of the players from the 2017 club. However, if Beltran really was so instrumental in the Astros’ crimes, it’s hard to imagine him working in MLB again. He may even have less of a chance to get into Cooperstown. Regardless, this latest news on the Astros is yet another black mark on an organization that has taken a beating this winter.