The Dodgers heard the rumors in 2017 as they advanced to their first World Series appearance in 29 years. There was nothing definitive, but the talk was pervasive. And the team’s advance scouts assigned to cover the Houston Astros, their World Series opponents, brought it up to Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations: The Astros were using a system beyond the norm to steal signs.
“There was just a lot of speculation at the time about it,” Friedman said.
On Tuesday, the conjecture came to light with substantial and detailed allegations. An article published on the Athletic website contends that the Astros stole signs electronically — an illegal practice — during the 2017 season. Two people told the Athletic that the Astros’ use of the system extended into the 2017 playoffs. Another person denied that, saying the system ended before the postseason.
The story describes how the Astros relayed catchers’ signs in real time at home games using a camera in the outfield and a monitor placed in a tunnel between their dugout and clubhouse. A noise from the dugout would then help the batter know what pitch was coming. Mike Fiers, a pitcher on the Astros that season, confirmed the system’s existence.
Hours after the story appeared online, the Astros issued a statement saying the organization has begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball.
“Teams are competing with one another and everybody’s trying to find an edge, but we all have to follow the rules and the rules are set by Major League Baseball,” Astros president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow said. “We all follow them. We all agree to follow them. And obviously if you don’t, there’s ramifications to that, so we want to follow the rules. We want to compete and win. That’s what every other club does as well.”
The Astros are far from the first team accused of illegally stealing signs. In 1951, for example, the New York Giants used a telescope and a buzzer to steal signs at the Polo Grounds. But the use of electronics adds another layer of intrigue. Several accusations, some involving the Astros, have been made against clubs in recent years. In 2017, MLB fined the Boston Red Sox for using a smartwatch as part of a sign-stealing scheme.
Angels general manager Billy Eppler declined to address the accusations levied against Houston but said his organization’s players “are just mindful in any environment” that an opponent could steal signs in non-traditional ways.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, whose team lost to the Astros in the American League Championship Series, isn’t convinced it’s a technology issue.
“That’s one component of many tools you can utilize in this game,” he said. “It just comes down to how you go about your business: Are you going to follow the rules and the guidelines or are you not?”
Friedman emphasized he did not want to elaborate on the allegations because he didn’t want to sound bitter, but he hinted that during Yu Darvish’s two starts in the 2017 World Series, the Dodgers believed the Astros were stealing signs in ways they hadn’t encountered. Darvish logged just 1 2/3 innings in both games and didn’t strike out a batter. He allowed four earned runs in both Game 3 in Houston and Game 7 in L.A., both Dodgers losses.
“We certainly did not know anything definitive at the time,” Friedman said. “But we had a player who was really good at picking up pitch-tipping-type things and he watched the Darvish outings and said, ‘You couldn’t sell out on something that Darvish was doing.’ ”
Friedman said the experience informed the organization on how to better combat sign-stealing. He explained it has since been discussed during spring training, with measures implemented during the regular season to make October “less panicked.” It’s a new normal clubs and MLB must combat.
“I think there are things that have existed since the beginning of time,” Friedman said. “And then there are other things that are more egregious and clearly across the line. And I think there are enough people involved in it that you have to be pretty brazen to do certain things. And when you do, people are going to find out about it.”