The game of baseball has changed forever. Sign stealing has been part of the game forever, but the illicit use of screens, microphones, and the tapping of trash barrels is where the integrity of the game is at risk. The Houston Astros received a hefty punishment from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred for their actions during the 2017, 2018, and 2019 seasons.
Live feed cameras in center field detected signs while hidden team employees buried in the dugout would relay banging sounds to notify batters of the type of pitch to expect. No bangs for a fastball and one or two loud bangs for an off-speed pitch. The Astros home- and road-record splits were surprising even for such a talented team, but there was more than standard home-field advantage to blame. It’s an empty feeling to watch these videos, hear the banging of a trashcan from a hidden team employee, and then see the ball land in the seats off an Astros bat. After the new calendar year MLB concluded its two-month investigation of over 75,000 emails from Astros employees with a maximum fine of five million dollars, the loss of Houston’s first- and second-round picks for the next two seasons, and the banishment of manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for the 2020 season.
As this relates to the Red Sox, manager Alex Cora was Houston’s bench coach in 2017, and a major player in the sign-stealing scheme, mentioned more than anyone else in the commissioner’s report. Although player-driven, Cora was a heavy influence in depicting the signs. Cora resigned from his position as Red Sox manager a day after the investigation broke.
It was also revealed that during the 2018 Championship season, Cora and the Red Sox were illegally using their video room to steal signs. Video rooms are common in baseball as teams have them for players to go back and read patterns from a pitcher, but not to the point of knowing a pitch before it comes out. In The Athletic, reporter Ken Rosenthal and others revealed that the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox have been using the room for these unauthorized purposes since 2015.
Under John Farrell in September 2017, the Red Sox were warned for relaying signs on Apple Watches. After a thorough warning from Commissioner Manfred the Red Sox appeared to have stopped. However, the Red Sox hired Alex Cora to replace Farrell that off-season, where Cora implemented a scaled-down version of Houston’s sign-stealing strategy, using the video room to learn signs, where they would signal the recognized sign from a runner on second base to send back to the batter.
MLB is still working on a investigation against Boston, but Red Sox players at the Winter Meetings have thought nothing of the investigation and believe the league wont have much to find. “It sucks”, said slugger J.D. Martinez in response to his thoughts on the investigation: “I was there in 2018, I saw what happened. People seem to forget how the team kept improving from ’16 and ’17.” Shortstop Xander Bogaerts emphasized the team won the 2018 title cleanly. Cora was forced to resign for the extent of his involvement and promotion of sign-stealing and for being a repeat-offender.
Fans on social media speculates that Houston may also be using a pulse like buzzer for players to hide under their jerseys. The most glaring piece of media was the clip of Astros second basemen Jose Altuve hitting a walk-off home run off New York’s Aroldis Chapman to clinch the 2019 ALCS. After rounding the bases and celebrating with his teammates, Altuve appears to hesitate to rip off his jersey. Astros outfielder Josh Reddick was interrogated on Twitter for a piece of confetti post celebration that many believed was a buzzer.
The New York Mets were the third team to lose their manager as a result of the scandal, former Astros bench coach Carlos Beltran. Cora and Beltran were formerly known and respected as some of the best young managerial minds in the game with an ability to read signs and understand the game at an advanced level, though there is always the question of how that knowledge was applied.
The Red Sox are still without a manager for the 2020 season, though there are rumblings that special assistant and longtime catcher Jason Varitek is a candidate. The Red Sox will most likely wait until the league investigation ends, though they will likely move on from Alex Cora for the future. Other in-house candidates for the role are Ron Roenicke and Carlos Febles, who are both bench coaches for the team. Ron is the current bench coach for the team with Febles being the teams third base coach.
The disastrous off-season for Boston continues with trade rumors for superstar outfielder Mookie Betts, who has one year of team control remaining and is at an impasse with the organization on figures for a contract extension. The Red Sox begin their first Spring Training scrimmage with Northeastern in three weeks.