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Column: Former Astros farm hands say team should be punished if it’s caught stealing

Houston Astros win
The Houton Astros celebrate with the Commissioner’s Trophy in November 1, 2017.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Delino DeShields Jr. and Ramon Laureano looked at each other and laughed as the question was being asked, knowing they likely had the same response.

Both players have something of an insider’s perspective on the Houston Astros sign-stealing controversy, having been drafted by the organization. Neither player made it to the majors with Houston.

“I’m not really surprised by it,” DeShields Jr. said.

“I was with them a couple of years ago; it doesn’t surprise me,” Laureano said.

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DeShields Jr., an outfielder for the Texas Rangers since 2015, was drafted by Houston with the eighth overall pick in 2010. Laureano, an outfielder for the Oakland Athletics since 2018, was drafted by the Astros in the 16th round in 2014.

An Oxnard sixth-grader was playing in a travel ball tournament that Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes attended. The boy told him a knock-knock joke afterward.

They were at the Easton headquarters in Thousand Oaks for the first “Future of Baseball Social Media Summit” but couldn’t escape the biggest story in baseball as they sat in an office before the event started.

“I would talk about it all the time with my teammates, whether it was on a plane or in the clubhouse after a game,” DeShields Jr. said. “We’d wonder how certain things happened. One day they would look really bad, and the next they’re putting everything in play. I was in that organization and I’m close with a lot of those guys and I’d ask them, ‘What’s different about you guys? How do you go from being the worst team in baseball as far as strikeouts go to being the best team as far as not striking out?’

“They would just say they stick to their approach and have a selective, aggressive mind-set. They were teaching us that when we were coming up so it made sense, but looking back maybe there was more to it than that. I always thought they were really good at picking up signs, but what gets lost is they were also really good at not letting other teams pick up their signs. We could never figure it out. They were really good at the sign stuff on both sides. The paranoia when teams played them was extreme. You knew when you went into Houston you had to really be prepared.”

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With the Rangers, Laureano is in the same division as the Astros. He said Houston stealing signs was a constant topic of conversation in the clubhouse and dugout.

“We’d talk it about it before the game, after the game, during the game,” Laureano said. “It’s obvious. You hear those whistles and sounds when we’re at Minute Maid Park. It’s one of those things where we know they’re cheating but that’s OK, we have to find a way to beat them.”

Major League Baseball is investigating accusations the Astros stole signs through illegal, electronic methods in 2017 when they beat the Dodgers in the World Series. Mike Fiers, now a teammate of Laureano’s in Oakland, pitched for the Astros from 2015 to 2017 and was among four players who, in an article published by The Athletic, described how the team stole signs.

“I didn’t really understand why he would say something,” DeShields Jr. said, “but at the same time you know how bad it is for the game if you just sit back and don’t say anything and let it slide. You have guys who are coming up, facing this team and they get their confidence shot and they don’t recover from it ,and the truth is they never had a chance. I don’t why he came forward, but he did.”

What MLB’s investigation might reveal, and what it might do if there was cheating, is unknown.

Kenley Jansen doesn’t believe Astros’ sign-stealing cost the Dodgers the 2017 World Series, but he agrees with Rob Manfred: Cheaters must be severely punished.

“They really need to do something that is going to scare the … out of everybody in baseball,” DeShields Jr. said. “It can’t be slap on the wrist. They have to scare the … out of everybody. If not, then everybody’s going to try it to win a World Series.

“I don’t think they can strip their title and act like that year just didn’t happen, but the league needs to penalize them heavily if the facts are the facts. Everyone is responsible for it from the ownership to the manager. I like [Astros manager] A.J. [Hinch] personally, but if he was allowing this stuff to happen he should get a significant suspension.”

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Laureano agrees the league would need to come down hard on the Astros and make an example of them to stop any potential for a trend developing.

“They should suspend everyone who knew about it and was involved,” Laureano said. “We were in the same division as them and suspected it. It’s not fair for the guys affected by it, especially the opposing pitcher. Stealing signs is part of the game when you’re on second base and things like that, but you can’t take it to another level like they did. Because of them, teams started to have multiple signs with nobody on base. I’d never seen that before. You started to see mound visits with nobody on base. The whole thing was crazy.”


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