Exactly where pushing the envelope turns into cheating in sports is a debate that will never be solved. It won't be solved because it's subjective, and there's some that feel that cheating only becomes immoral when you get caught.
While this debate has become a national storyline - even outside of the sports world - in regards to the New England Patriots on multiple occasions, it appears we now have a new "gate" in the sports world. Rather than "Spygate" or "Deflategate," this one may go down as "Trash can gate."
Or at least it would be more fun if it ultimately does.
In any event, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic outlined sign stealing that went on with the Astros during the 2017 season:
"Four people who were with the Astros in 2017, including pitcher Mike Fiers, said that during that season, the Astros stole signs during home games in real time with the aid of a camera positioned in the outfield.
Now, an MLB investigation into the Astros’ culture in the wake of the team’s firing of assistant general manager Brandon Taubman could be expanded to determine who in the organization was aware of the sign-stealing practice — and whether it continued or evolved in subsequent seasons. The Athletic’s confirmation of rule-breaking by Houston is limited to 2017.
'Beginning in the 2017 season, numerous Clubs expressed general concerns that other Clubs were stealing their signs,” MLB said in a statement. “As a result of those concerns, and after receiving extensive input from the General Managers, we issued a revised policy on sign stealing prior to the 2019 season. We also put in place detailed protocols and procedures to provide comfort to Clubs that other Clubs were not using video during the game to decode and steal signs. After we review this new information we will determine any necessary next steps.'"
The Astros, of course, won their first World Series in franchise history in 2017, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-game World Series. While that can largely be attributed to a roster that included Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander, among others, this story, in the minds of some, may taint the team's World Series win.
Additionally, while the report indicates that 2017 is the only season they are discussing, that won't stop others from jumping to conclusions about whether this continued beyond the 2017 season. Frankly, if the Astros won a World Series in 2017 and weren't caught, it wouldn't seem to make a ton of sense for them to have stopped it, if they were already doing it. (For what it's worth, sources in the report gave conflicting information on whether this strategy continued into the playoffs in 2017).
Trevor Bauer, who pitched for the Cleveland Indians from 2013 until July of 2019, already seemed to suggest that a sign-stealing operation could have contributed to the Indians being defeated by the Astros in the ALDS in 2018:
While modern technology assisted in this process, the report indicates that so too did clubhouse trashcans:
"The Astros’ set-up in 2017 was not overly complicated. A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway.
When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming."
This is the latest event that will likely make letting Gerrit Cole walk in free agency due to luxury tax concerns pretty far down on the Astros list of public relations concerns this offseason.
Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was fired during the World Series for inappropriate conduct in the clubhouse towards female reporters after the team won Game 6 of the ALCS over the New York Yankees. Taubman, per a Sports Illustrated story, screamed about how happy he was the team acquired closer Roberto Osuna, who had previously been suspended for domestic violence, in the direction of three female reporters. The Astros initially attacked the story, before ultimately firing Taubman.