In November 2019, former Houston Astros pitcher Mike Fiers confessed in an interview that the team had used a scheme to steal signs during the 2017 season. This was the season in which the Astros won their first ever World Series title.
In baseball, a catcher may make nonverbal signs to his pitcher to be on the same page about what type of pitch he can expect. This scheme the Astros ran involved the use of a camera in the centerfield wall of their home ballpark, Minute Maid Park.
The camera was pointed at the opposing team’s catcher. The camera would send live feed to a monitor in the home dugout, where someone would watch the signs and then send a signal to the Astro who was batting. They tried whistling, clapping and most notably hitting a trash can with a bat to denote what pitch was coming.
Stealing signs is not inherently a violation of baseball rules, but in 2017 MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred warned all teams that the use of technology to steal signs was to be strictly prohibited. This warning came in the same year of the Astros’ sign stealing, meaning they were fully aware of what they were doing.
Once Fiers revealed Houston’s plot, baseball fans began coming up with accusations of their own, saying how the Astros had used remote buzzers under their jerseys. None of them have yet to be confirmed by the Major League Baseball.
To someone who doesn’t watch or play baseball, this may seem like a complicated situation. So think of it like this: What the Astros did was the baseball equivalent of screen-peeking in video games. In fact, there are identifiable ethical parallels between the Astros using a camera to peek at the opposing team with someone peeking at their opponent’s screen in a video game.
Screen-peeking is the act of looking at the screen or part of the screen of whoever you’re playing against in order to see what they are doing. This is most common in first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty or Halo. However, this once rampant method of cheating has almost become a non-issue since split screen gameplay has become less popular in recent years.
Seminole State student Liam Culhane recently played a match of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, a game that hearkens back to his middle school days. Afterward, the Scribe asked him some questions about the ethics behind screen-peeking.
Although admitting he had glanced at his opponent’s half of the screen a couple times, Culhane largely denounced the practice.
“All the necessary information should be available to the player’s own part of the screen,” he said, explaining how the best players don’t have to rely on seeing what their opponent is doing.
“I think any form of victory is invalidated by cheating no matter how big or small,” he said. When asked if it is a part of the game, he said it is unavoidably so. Then again, he mentioned how it isn’t an issue in certain communities such as for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, a game he plays competitively in which both characters are on the same screen at the same time.
We can see that what Houston has done was anything but fair. So, how do baseball players themselves feel about the Astros? To answer this question, the Scribe interviewed Raiders baseball pitcher Josh Collet and asked him about the scandal that’s been sending shockwaves through his sport.
“Overall I don’t think it’s that bad for the sport,” Collet said. “The reason the scandal is this big in my opinion is the lengths the Astros went combined with the fact that they won a World Series doing it.”
Collet had also echoed the sentiment that figuring out the opposing team’s signs is a part of the game but took exception to the alleged use of buzzers. He stated this is because they would give information to the hitter in real time without giving the opposing pitcher or catcher a fair shot at being able to realize their signs were stolen.
Unlike with screen-peeking, there’s a gray area when it comes to whether the Astros’ victory is valid. Among the punishments given to them by the MLB are one-year bans given to their now former manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, a $5 million fine, and the forfeiture of future draft picks. The Astros have been allowed to officially keep their World Series title.
Collet said he believes these punishments are harsh enough.
“That’s where the controversy in all of this is, there are people like myself who don’t believe that this was too far outside of the rules and would just chalk it up to being a part of the game, that the Astros happen to be better at than everyone else, and there’s also people who believe that you shouldn’t be trying to steal signs at all.”