Ruling on Astros Confirms Merit of Tribe Players’ Allegations
Vince Guerrieri | On 13, Jan 2020
So, uh, maybe it wasn’t sour grapes with Trevor Bauer?
The erstwhile Indians pitcher said in 2018 that there was something suspicious about the sudden increase in velocity by pitchers for the defending world champion Astros. Those remarks inspired Houston manager AJ Hinch to say to MLB.com, “I do think people need to sweep their own front porch and deal with their own situations rather than throw accusations that are unfounded.”
Following the American League Division Series that year – in which a sleepwalking Tribe team was dispatched by those same Astros in a three-game sweep – Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis and pitcher Mike Clevinger, a close friend of Bauer’s, said the Astros had an analytical advantage in the series.
It was ultimately inferred that the advantage was not necessarily aboveboard when the Red Sox, the Astros’ opponent in the next round of the playoffs, removed a man, ultimately identified as Kyle McLaughlin, from ballgames after he was reported to be filming the Red Sox dugout. (Something similar happened during the Indians’ lone home ALDS game, and MLB had investigated similar allegations against the Astros made earlier that summer by the Athletics.)
And now, the hammer’s been dropped. After a lengthy investigation into allegations of sign stealing, Commissioner Rob Manfred fined the Astros $5 million (a record sum), took away first- and second-round picks this year and next year, and suspended Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow for the 2020 season.
A further violation by Hinch and Luhnow would put them on baseball’s permanent ineligible list, but they’d have to get back on a major league payroll. Within hours of the announcement, Astros owner Jim Crane fired Hinch and Luhnow. (Also, former Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman, who was fired following profane taunting remarks about Roberto Osuna to female reporters following last year’s ALCS, was suspended for the year.)
It’s worth noting at this point that the Red Sox may not have clean hands in all this. They were rapped on the knuckles in 2017 for using an Apple Watch to relay stolen signs from the clubhouse to the dugout, and Alex Cora was Astros bench coach and “an active participant,” according to Manfred, before taking his current position as Red Sox manager. To this point, Cora has not been punished – as the Red Sox are being investigated for any potential sign-stealing in 2018, when THEY won the World Series in Cora’s first year as manager.
For as long as Major League Baseball has had signs – and they date back almost as far as the game itself – there has been sign-stealing. And there’s almost a code to it. Teams take advantage of pitches being tipped with a clear conscience. That was one of the factors in the Indians’ first World Series win in 1920. Dodgers second baseman Pete Kilduff – best known to Indians fans as the second out in Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play in Game 5 – was picking up a handful of dirt when a certain pitch was signaled for Burleigh Grimes. That pitch? Grimes’ spitter. Kilduff needed the dirt to help handle the slippery ball. As a result, the Indians laid off Grimes’ spitball – and hammered him in both his appearances.
Also, there’s nothing unseemly about a runner on second trying to read a catcher’s signals. It’s when technology is used to do so – like the Giants famously did in 1951, using binoculars to read signs from the center field clubhouse at the Polo Grounds. Bob Feller copped to something similar with the 1948 Indians, using a telescope from his days in the navy mounted in the scoreboard at Municipal Stadium to steal signals. Bill Veeck said it was part of “a long tradition of scoreboard espionage,” and Feller said, “All’s fair in love and war – and when you’re trying to win a pennant.”
So what’s changed since that era that makes sign-stealing less socially acceptable and more criminal? Is it just the prevalence of technology? (Ballplayers now cover their mouths with their gloves, like gangsters under surveillance, during mound conferences – a reflection of the advances in high-definition technology, where lip-reading is actually possible from the TV.) My theory is that it’s penance … for the lack of vigilance during the steroid era, leaving us to relitigate who got away with what – while trying to account for the misdemeanors of the current era.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images