Opinion: MLB needs to improve penalties in wake of Astros’ cheating


Morgan Vehige

In wake of the Astro’s cheating scandal, the MLB needs to create harsher punishments for teams in order to deter them from cheating.

Vijay Viswanathan

On Jan. 13, Major League Baseball (MLB) handed out one of the harshest punishments in its history to the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros. Their crime? Stealing signs from the other teams.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow, who used to work for the St. Louis Cardinals, were originally suspended by MLB without pay for a year, then were dismissed by the Astros. The team was also fined $5 million and forfeited its first- and second-round picks in the 2021 and 2022 MLB Draft.

Additionally, the Boston Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora, who used to be a bench coach for the Astros, and the New York Mets fired manager Carlos Beltrán, who used to be an outfielder for the Astros.

Sign-stealing has existed for a long time in MLB, but this was one of the first times the league took action against a club over it. In the last decade, there have been only two teams accused of sign-stealing—the Astros and the Red Sox. The Red Sox were found to be using an Apple Watch in their dugout in 2017, but insisted it was not being used to steal signs. MLB nevertheless fined them over the incident. There is also an ongoing investigation by MLB into the 2018 Red Sox stealing signs.

After the 2018 MLB Playoffs, MLB introduced new rules to combat sign-stealing. They would have security agents going between the team’s video replay room, and they would also start recording dugout phones.

The Astros scandal first came to light after former Astros pitcher Mike Fires told reporters in November the team had engaged in a complex sign-stealing operation. Fires is now a member of the Oakland Athletics. According to Fires, the Astros stole signs by putting a camera in center field that connected to a video monitor in or near the Astros dugout and banging on a trash can to indicate the type of pitch. For example, two bangs on the trash can may indicate a fastball, while one bang on the trash can may indicate a curveball.

Even before the original report alleging the Astros stole signs went public, there was already some paranoia in the eyes of other MLB teams—so much so that the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals made their own plan to prevent their signs from being stolen.

Before the 21st century, sign stealing in MLB had been largely sporadic. But with the introduction of new portable technology, such as the Apple Watch, sign-stealing is becoming easier and easier.

MLB has had cheating scandals in the past, the most notable being the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal and the Steroid Era in the late 1990s to early 2000s. But they have never had a scandal such as this sign-stealing scandal. The Steroid Era made fans doubt their teams and players. This sign-stealing scandal threatens to do the same to the Astros and Red Sox. Along with the punishment already handed down by MLB, I feel that MLB should suspend players directly involved (although no other player other than Beltrán was mentioned in the report) and strip the Astros of both their 2017 American League (AL) pennant and their 2017 World Series title. Those titles weren’t won by the hard work of players, but rather by cheating.

Cheating is a very serious breach of the rules in sports. MLB has indicated with this punishment that it feels the same way, but how did they let the Astros run their sign-stealing operation for close to two and a half years? MLB needs to make the punishments harsher; otherwise, teams, players and fans alike will feel cheated.