Trash cans, video cameras: cheating in Major League Baseball

Baseball ethics called into question after Astros cheating scandal is uncovered

Kyle Morrison, Staff Writer

an illustrattion of a man in a houston astros jersey with his hands on his head and a trash can in the background
Chloe Guillot

Ever since the 1919 World Series, when the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes in return for intentionally losing the World Series, baseball has been marred by occasional scandal.


From pine tar, to cocaine, to steroids and even gambling, baseball players have always been looking for competitive and monetary advantages.


This past October, the Houston Astros continued what has been an incredible three-year run for their organization. The Astros won 100 games for the third straight year, and made it to the World Series for the second time in the last three seasons. Despite losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games, the Astros were still immediate favorites to get back to the championship in 2020. 


With fan friendly stars like MVP second baseman Jose Altuve, Cy Young Award winning pitcher Justin Verlander, and other all stars like center fielder George Springer, shortstop Carlos Correa, and third baseman Alex Bregman, the Astros were the darlings of the league. 


Then the truth came out. 


In November 2019, almost immediately after the end of the World Series, Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers, who won a championship with the Houston Astros in 2017, confirmed the ongoing suspicion around baseball that the Houston Astros were illegally stealing signs to gain an advantage.


Stealing signs in itself is not against the rules. Teams have tried to figure out what signals the catcher gives for different pitches since the beginning of baseball. 


What made the Astros different was the use of outside resources, namely a camera in center field. In 2017, the Astros had a team employee film a live stream of the opposing team’s catcher and the signs being given. This live stream was viewed by another team employee in the dugout, who proceeded to bang a trash can at different rates correlating to the pitch the other team was going to throw. 


Looking back on the 2017 season, it becomes blatantly clear that this unnatural advantage definitely played a role in the Astros winning their championship. 


In the 2017 playoffs, the Astros went 8-1 at home, and 3-6 on the road. Since the Astros only had the resources to cheat when they were at home, it’s easy to see where these home/road splits become increasingly frustrating for opponents. 


The Astros did not stop there. 


In 2019, on their latest run towards the World Series, there has been evidence the Houston players ditched the trash can and got even more high tech. Players supposedly were wearing buzzers which could be vibrated a certain number of times depending on the pitch being thrown by the other opponent. 


Unsurprisingly, the Astros controversy has led to a major fallout. 


AJ Hinch and Jeff Lunhow, the Astros manager and general manager, were fired immediately following the fallout. Alex Cora who was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017, before being hired by the Boston Red Sox, was fired as well. 


There is also now evidence that the Red Sox may have cheated in the same way to win the 2018 World Series. Carlos Beltran, who was a player on the 2017 Astros, also got fired by the New York Mets as their manager before managing a single game.  


Despite the fallout, there still remain many ethical questions. 


For one, there are some players, like Cincinatti Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, who believe that all teams are cheating in certain ways and that the only crime the Astros are guilty of is just getting caught. Others in the baseball world believe that the penalties the Astros received are not harsh enough and that the players should be penalized — and that the World Series title should possibly be stripped as well. 


“Most baseball rules seem to deal with the idea of fairness. The idea is that when two teams meet they ought to meet equally enough,” Seattle Pacific University ethics professor Leland Saunders said. 


“Once you start committing bad actions, they start begetting bad actions. The punishment ought to match the participation … Someone needs to address the way in which other players were harmed, and that does seem to merit some reparation … some recompense.”


As far as other members of the SPU community, the overwhelming feeling is that the Astros should pay. 


“I’m in the boat that they should strip the Astros of their title. The evidence is so blatant that it was happening and the players were fully in on it,” junior Tim Strachan said.


Optimistic Seattle Mariners fans. who have seen their team get crushed by Houston the last three years, pulling out only 16 wins in 58 games against them, seem to have even more interest in how the Astros are punished. 


“I’m just a Mariners fan, [I] hope the Astros get penalized so the Mariners have a chance,” freshman Austin Freeman said.


No matter what angle you take on it, the Astros scandal has shaken the MLB to its core. 


With the legitimacy of two championships in question, and the management of three marquee teams in disarray, it will be very interesting to see how baseball moves on, and if the Astros organization can ever reemerge from the darkness.