The Houston Astros, since their establishment in 1962, have played through many dry seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB), and it isn’t just because their home stadium sits amid Texas’ humid heat. It took years for the team to make it to the playoffs, and it took even longer for them to find their way past that point, but in 2005, they finally sealed their spot in the World Series for the first time. However, as fate would have it, they were swept by the Chicago White Sox, batting away Houston’s first shot at a World Series title.
After their World Series loss, the Astros spent several years getting misplaced within the bottom teams of the MLB. However, in 2017, the team once again found themselves in the running to win the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The competition went down to the wire, and after game seven, the Astros finally lifted their first ever World Series trophy. It was a historic moment for Houston, and it called for major celebrations. But after the dust settled on their prized trophy, and the streets cleared of their fans, whispers of questions started to fill the silence—just how far were the Astros willing to go to end their drought?
Stripped and exposed
Two years after their monumental World Series win, the whispers turned to screams. Mike Fiers, a former pitcher who played during the Astros’ championship season, came forward to The Athletic to expose the trickery of his former team.
It was reported that the Astros set up a video camera in the center field of their home stadium in order to capture the signs coming from the opposing teams’ catchers, hand gestures intended to communicate with the pitcher on how to throw the ball. The Astros staff in the dugout who were watching the feed from the camera would then signal to their batter through sounds or buzzes what kind of pitch to expect. Coincidence or not, the Astros concluded their 2017 regular season recording the most hits, runs, and runs batted in among all the other teams.
Stealing signs is not uncommon in the MLB. In fact, most players try to decode the catcher signals. But what set the Astros apart was their intended use of technology for the sake of stealing signs.
As the MLB found after conducting thorough investigations, the Astros put in a lot of effort to win their 2017 World Series title—efforts that went far past the baseball rulebook. With clear shreds of evidence brought to light, the team had to pay the price. The MLB could not ignore the signs, and right before the 2020 season, they made the decision to strip the Astros of their one and only World Series title.
Rob Manfred, the current Commissioner of Baseball, expressed his indignation toward the Astros’ actions after announcing the MLB’s decision. “The Astros have smeared the name of this beautiful game, and the entire league as a whole,” Manfred declared. “Thankfully, however, the truth found its way to the surface; after stealing signs from the other teams, the championship sign hanging in Astros’ home stadium will be rightfully taken from them.”
A week after the Astros were stripped of their title, some MLB staff came into their home stadium, the Minute Maid Park, looking to collect. On the field, all of the 2017 Astros players welcomed the staff’s arrival, offering looks of regret as they turned over their World Series rings. That same morning, the players also had the opportunity to watch as the MLB staff unlocked the glass doors to their wall of memorabilia, to take away their beloved 2017 World Series trophy. With all that prized hardware taken away from the Astros, perhaps some of their dignity was stripped away as well.
The Dodgers, who played against the Astros in the 2017 World Series, celebrated like kings on the night of the announcement, as they were crowned champions over two years too late. Posting videos and photos on their social media profiles, some of the players showed their elation at their fresh victory, while also serving digs at the Astros on the side.
The festivities on the West Side lasted over a week. The team opened the Dodger Stadium to the public for free, allowing fans to join in celebrating on the day of the arrival of their new pieces of metal. Confetti cannons released a storm of blue-and-white as the players carried out their new 2017 World Series trophy to the center of the field. Shaken champagne watered the grass, players danced to the cheers of the fans, and heartfelt words from the team echoed through the stadium. It was a celebration unlike any other, which was fitting to these very unique circumstances.
Corey Seager, shortstop for the Dodgers in their 2017 World Series roster, shared much of the excitement and merriment, but he also took a moment to acknowledge the role of the MLB in these events. “This decision to bring the World Series title here to LA was a true statement on where the MLB stands on cheating in any and all forms,” he shared. “Hopefully, we all take this as a message to keep baseball a fair game.”
A sign to take away
The MLB was applauded for the harsh decision that they brought upon the Astros for the way the team degraded the integrity of the sport. Justice had been rightfully served. But, even after the MLB made their call and enforced their punishments, naturally, the fans demanded they have a go at it as well.
With spring training having just started, the Astros have already become the laughing stock of MLB this season. Spectators have been bringing clever chants and signs of their own to games to taunt the sign-thieves. At a spring training game against the Boston Red Sox, one fan held up a signboard that read, “I had a better sign, but the Astros stole it!”
Social media has also flooded with posts and photos mocking the cheating fiasco. One post showed a photo of a tire store’s signboard that said, “If you see Astros near our sign, please call us!” But it isn’t only the fans and netizens having fun in these circumstances—even other MLB teams have joined in on the comedic side of this entire scandal. The Atlanta Braves played a song with the lyrics “I saw the sign” right before the start of a game against the Astros, and the fans in the stands sang along loudly to the lyrics before laughing and booing the Astros.
It is unclear when the shame and jokes toward the Astros will comb-over, especially as the regular season is yet to begin. But, what is certain is that these once-champions, along with the entire sporting community, will never forget these moments of ridicule and ignominy.
It wasn’t just the MLB’s decision that made a statement on cheating; it was also the way the entire world responded to the issue. The stripping of the Astros’ World Series title and the wide infamy that came with it has placed a permanent mark on the world of sports.
Cheating destroys the entire essence of sporting—and that’s what rulebooks and governing bodies are set in place for. This entire scandal is perhaps a strong warning sign to make any sporting team think twice before even stepping into the pool of dishonesty. Because as the Astros have proven, one way or another, things always come full circle.