The Houston Astros didn't cheat. They didn't want to get cheated.
That's their story, and Major League Baseball agrees.
Following an investigation into two incidents this postseason, MLB said the defending World Series champions were conducting surveillance — not spying — when a credentialed Astros employee was pointing his cellphone into the opposing dugouts during playoff games in Cleveland and Boston.
The Indians filed a complaint following Game 3 of the AL Division Series after the employee was observed aiming his phone into their dugout and taking pictures or video. A few days later, the same man was ejected from an area in Fenway Park during Game 1 of the ALCS.
According to a person familiar with the situation, the Red Sox had been warned ahead of the series about the Astros employee, who was near Cleveland's dugout for several innings on Oct. 8 before he was removed by security. That person spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
On Wednesday, MLB issued a two-paragraph statement saying its department of investigations did a thorough probe and determined “that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing club was not violating any rules.” MLB has instructed all clubs still in the playoffs “to refrain from these types of efforts.”
MLB went on to say it considers “the matter closed.”
But while the Astros feel absolved of any wrongdoing, the incidents taking place during baseball's greatest month have raised questions about sign-stealing and ethics in the age of high-speed, high-definition cameras.
Speaking in Boston's dugout before Game 4 in Houston, Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski said there are more layers to unravel.
“I do not think that person in the camera well was stealing signs, and so I understand that it was resolved,” Dombrowski said. “First of all, there was a violation, a person was in the credentialed box that shouldn't have been there, he wasn't supposed to be there. Secondly, I don't like the implication that the Boston Red Sox were doing anything illegal, and I don't think that the issue is actually closed from Major League Baseball, from what I've been advised from the commissioner's office, so there's a lot more steps that are attached to this.”
Prior to the postseason, MLB said “a number of clubs” called Commissioner Rob Manfred to express concerns about video equipment being used to steal signs. To address those worries, the commissioner instituted a new prohibition on the use of certain in-stadium cameras, beefing up MLB security at games and monitoring video rooms.
After the Astros employee was removed from the game at Progressive Field in Cleveland, the team tried to get a second person next to the dugout, two people familiar with the matter told the AP. The Astros employee had been issued a support pass that day.
Following MLB's ruling, Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said that the team has been proactive in policing other ballparks for “suspicious activity” and that the team has uncovered some “multiple” times. Luhnow said the club would abide by MLB's guidelines and any prior monitoring was done as protection.
“We were playing defense; we were not playing offense,” Luhnow said before Game 4.