Though the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal became news to the public in late 2019, there were obviously players and other figures within Major League Baseball who had an idea that something was amiss throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
You can count former Phillies and then-Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley as one of the many suspicious observers of the Astros over the years, especially once his Dodgers were set to compete against the Astros in the 2017 World Series. In the latest episode of RADIO.COM and Cadence13 podcast "The Edge: Houston Astros," host Ben Reiter spoke with Utley about his suspicions.
"If you hear there's something fishy from one person, okay, that's one thing," Utley said regarding rumors of the Astros' behavior. "But when you hear it from multiple different areas, that's a little concerning, so that's when I did my homework."
Utley took to the film room, watching countless plays from Astros hitters to see if anything caught his eye.
"Hours of tape, I'm watching hours," Utley said. "I'm watching all of their hitters, I'm watching everything just to see if there are any red flags. And the more I dug on the Astros... they obviously had very talented players but it seemed like they were just doing something that other teams weren't.
"I felt like something was up."
The videos, unfortunately for Utley, did not come with any audio, and Reiter notes that he wasn't able to pick up any of the infamous trash can bangs that were such an instrumental component of the scandal. However, the Astros' ability to read certain pitches struck him as odd.
"Some of the breaking pitches they were able to lay off of, and not really flinching at... (if) that happens once or twice throughout the game, okay it's just happenstance," Utley said. "But when it happens over and over again with multiple hitters, it seemed like they were either really good at picking up tips or somebody was helping them out."
Thus, with a World Series matchup on the horizon against the Astros, Utley wanted to make sure that he acted as a leader and prepared his team as much as he possibly could without making his pitchers worried. After all, as Reiter notes, an outing on the biggest stage in professional baseball is probably enough pressure for a young pitcher without any additional baggage.
Utley then toed the line between ignoring the issue and causing any paranoia within the pitching staff, telling everyone that he thought it would be a good idea to change up sign sequences and use multiple signs to rule out any foul play. He also continued his investigative work in the dugout throughout the series.
"You're looking in the dugout, you're looking at first base coaches, you're looking in the outfield, you're looking in the bullpen," Utley said. "You're looking for anything that can be a clue to what they're doing. And... at the time, I wasn't able to come up with any one particular thing that I thought was fishy during the World Series."
Still, all his work didn't prevent the Astros from dominating certain members of the Dodgers' pitching staff, with Yu Darvish acting as the primary target. Clearly, the oft-dominant starter was either off of his game or there was some other issue. After twirling two brilliant outings in earlier rounds of the playoffs for a stat line of 11.1 IP, 2 ER and 14 K, Darvish was knocked out of his Game 3 start after just 1.2 innings, giving up four runs on six hits.
"Maybe he's giving some type of tell," Utley said, as they tried to figure out how the Astros hit Darvish so easily. "Honing in on that game, the footage that we had on it wasn't great to pick up everything. Me and a few other guys watched some video and decided maybe he was doing something... we're not 100 percent sure, but going into Game 7 let's make an adjustment on what he typically does to see if that is helpful."
Carlos Beltran, who said that the Astros were able to read Darvish's wrist motion in Game 3 as a tip to what he was going to throw, said that Houston did notice the changes in Darvish's delivery come Game 7. Apparently, it didn't matter, as they tagged him for five runs (four earned) in the same 1.2-inning span.
Utley watched the film and later reported to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman that Darvish was not giving off any pitch-tipping cues, according to MLB writer Andy McCullough. However, he's still not ready to come outright and say that the Astros were cheating.
"I don't know if they were stealing signs in the World Series," Utley said. "I have no clue. Only they know, and that information may never come out. So stealing it (the World Series) from us? Not necessarily.
"I think during the course of the regular season against some other teams in their league, they rode a lot of people the wrong way with their actions. But I can't say definitively that they did that in the World Series."
Utley used the film room to watch opposing teams' signs throughout his career, like many players do. He compared it to doing homework, potentially gaining an advantage when he would get on second base and could relay any useful information to the batter. That type of play is legal, it's savvy and it's fair.
But did it ever occur to him to use film in illegal methods?
"No, it didn't," Utley said. "No. Because it just wasn't... it wasn't right."