"I think the best way to catch a cheater is to have been a cheater yourself, and that's what they were doing."
That's former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who shared this idea with writer and "The Edge: Houston Astros" podcast host Ben Reiter, responding to what made several players and coaches within the Astros organization suspect other teams of cheating during the 2018 season. As we all have heard, the Astros weren't the only team under suspicion of wrongdoing in recent years. The Red Sox were punished for their illegal use of video, and Tom Verducci of SI.com reported that as many as eight other teams were under suspicion of similar practices as the Astros — "such was the culture of the time," writes Verducci.
And while it's possible that there was heightened paranoia within the Astros organization as more and more accusations and claims of cheating came in — which Reiter certainly thinks was the case — there also may have been legitimate credibility to the Astros' own claims of other teams looking to gain an unfair advantage. Luhnow says that three separate incidents came to his attention, involving three different American League teams.
The first that came to Luhnow's attention was when a member of the Astros saw that a monitor relaying a live feed of the game was visible from the Cleveland Indians dugout at Progressive Field.
"There was a live feed where the monitor was pointed toward the dugout, so any player in the dugout could easily be watching that live feed and deciphering signs," Luhnow explained. "There was no evidence that they were actually using that live feed, it was just suspicious that that monitor was there. It shouldn't be there."
Reiter confronted an Indians spokesperson on the matter, who told him that the screen was in a fan suite next to the team's dugout and was supposed to be on a 10-second delay, though he couldn't put his finger on why it appeared to have been a live feed when the Astros came across it.
Luhnow heard about a second incident directly following the team's series with the Indians, when the Astros traveled to New York at the end of May for a three-game clash with the Yankees.
Brandon Taubman, the former Astros executive who was fired and suspended from baseball for offensive remarks toward a reporter, went into a restricted section of Yankee Stadium to find a team employee with a high-speed camera and cell phone pointed toward home plate. Taubman shot a video and shared it with Luhnow, who then went to Yankees GM Brian Cashman to talk about their findings.
"I told him, 'what's going on, why do you have a guy in the outfield filming our signs?' " Luhnow said. "And he said, 'no Jeff, it may look like that but it's not that.'
Cashman told him that they had received approval from MLB to test out a high-speed camera and further swore to Luhnow that they weren't using it for any illegitimate purposes, such as stealing signs.
"Brandon, the people in the video room, they wanted to pursue this," Luhnow said, "and I instructed them not to pursue it. Let's drop it, let's move on. Cashman wouldn't lie to me, he's never lied to me before, there's no reason for that."
Cashman told Reiter the same thing that he had told Luhnow, adding that MLB had investigated the incident numerous times and had confirmed what the Yankees told them. He also told Reiter that he didn't realize the Astros were going to these lengths to spy on his ball club.
"I did not realize this was a counter-surveillance program," Cashman told Reiter. "If I did, I would probably have had Taubman arrested for violating our security rules."
Finally, Astros players told Luhnow that they suspected the Texas Rangers of wrongdoing after seeing a man acting unusually in the outfield stands in June.
"It appeared... that the person was using binoculars to look for signs and, if he was able to decipher the signs, he would send a message using his cell phone to whoever was on the other side," Luhnow said. "Now, that didn't look like fan behavior in any way shape or form, that looked highly suspicious."
Taubman questioned the man, to which he admitted that he wasn't supposed to be there, packed up his stuff and left.
"The fact that he admitted to Brandon that he shouldn't be doing that and left suggests something going on there," Luhnow said. "I can't explain it otherwise, but that's what it looked like to me."
Rangers GM Jon Daniels had no explanation for the event when Reiter asked him about it, looking at photos of the man and sharing them with members of the front office to no avail. No one recognized the mystery figure.
In no way do any of these incidents show definitive evidence of other teams cheating, but as Luhnow noted before, cheaters can often pick out fellow cheaters in the act. But what does Reiter think of the incidents after hearing Luhnow's accounts and looking into the evidence himself?
"I've seen the Astros video evidence of all these incidents, and I want to be clear that none of them looks at all definitive to me," Reiter said. "But the fact that multiple Astros' players asks staffers to investigate their rivals does speak to the level of paranoia on the team. They were really worried about other clubs illegally stealing their signs, and why wouldn't they be?
"They knew of at least one team that had gotten away with it night after night, especially the season before."