Earlier this month, news broke that the Houston Astros reportedly stole signs during their 2017 championship season. The news broke after a conflict-filled end of the season for the team, during which they lost the World Series to the Washington Nationals amidst a conflict involving former Assistant General Manager Brandon Taubman. Taubman was fired in October after directing comments towards female reporters in the clubhouse regarding pitcher Roberto Osuna, who was previously embroiled in a domestic violence case. Major League Baseball is currently investigating the Astros for this incident. Now that the 2019 season has come to a close, the Astros are involved in conflict again. This time, however, the team is accused of stealing signs from the opposing teams, a severe accusation that will be followed by another MLB investigation.

Sign stealing, where a team observes the signs between the opposing pitcher and catcher, has been a controversial subject for quite some time. By stealing signs, teams aim to give their hitters an advantage, often using hand signals or similar methods to relay the opposing teams’ signs to the hitter. However, the sign stealing scandal involving the Astros involves the use of technology to steal signs from the opposing team, which is illegal. 

Fueling an already complex issue, The Athletic published a story reporting that the Astros used technology to steal signs throughout the 2017 season. The article, citing four sources, quotes pitcher Mike Fiers, who pitched for the Astros during the 2017 season. According to Fiers, the Astros stole signs from the opposing team using an outfield camera. Sources detailing the Astros’ method for sign-stealing say individuals working for the team were positioned in a hallway in the dugout. Then, watching the feed from the outfield camera, individuals would bang on a trash can to alert the Astros hitters. Some opposing pitchers also seemed to notice the banging coming from the Astros dugout, with the article confirming their suspicions. Danny Farquhar, a former Chicago White Sox pitcher, noted that he recalled hearing banging noises coming from the Astros dugout when pitching in Houston. Similarly, unnamed sources also came forward, stating that the Astros continued to steal signs throughout the 2017 postseason. 

In light of these severe allegations, MLB launched an investigation into league-wide sign stealing, specifically focusing on the Astros. Commissioner of Major League Baseball Rob Manfred commented that after The Athletic released news of the Astros stealing signs, MLB reacted by launching an investigation. At first, the investigation focused on the 2017 season, but has since been expanded to include the last three seasons. According to Manfred, many organizations are concerned with other teams stealing signs, though Manfred is currently focused on the Astros, given the information that is available. With the investigation just getting underway, there is no timetable for when Manfred and the league will have the investigation completed and report their findings. Manfred suggested he seeks a conclusion by Opening Day in 2020. If the Astros are found guilty, severe fines, the loss of Draft picks or even suspensions could be in play. 

Notably, although The Athletic detailed allegations of sign stealing during the 2017 season, controversy has not subsided in the seasons since. Earlier this year, teams continued to accuse the Astros of sign stealing, reporting that they heard the team whistling and banging on trash cans to steal opposing signs. Accusations coming from this season show that the Astros stealing signs in 2017 may not have been an isolated incident, and has likely continued in the following seasons. 

The Houston Astros released a statement following The Athletic published the article, refusing to comment on any of the accusations. 

Despite the conflict surrounding the Astros, the MLB offseason is in full swing. Throughout the next few months, baseball fans await the record-breaking contract of former Astros pitcher Gerritt Cole, along with the signings of World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg and World Series champion Anthony Rendon, who headline this year’s free agent class.