How the Houston Astros cheated in 2017-18 MLB seasons

How the Houston Astros cheated in 2017, 2018 MLB seasons originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Houston Astros are back in a familiar role: World Series villains.

The organization has made it a habit of reaching the Fall Classic since 2017. Houston outlasted the Los Angeles Dodgers in that year’s World Series, fulfilling a famous Sports Illustrated prophecy and serving as a model for championship team building in Major League Baseball.

Within a few years, any warm feelings towards the Astros and their 2017 World Series run turned to outrage.

In November 2019, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that the team stole signs during home games in 2017. MLB investigated the matter and handed out a pair of suspensions for two notable figures in the Astros organization. While MLB has imposed other punishments in recent years that show sign-stealing extends beyond Houston, the Astros are still reviled for their cheating.

The Astros rolled into the World Series once again this year, setting up a showdown with the Philadelphia Phillies and giving them a chance to win their first championship since that tainted 2017 season. How exactly did the Astros cheat, and what price did the organization pay for stealing signs? Here’s a quick look back at the scandal, investigation and fallout.

How did the Houston Astros cheat?

MLB’s investigation found the Astros’ sign-stealing included a center field camera, their video replay room and trash cans in the dugout.

The team would use a camera in the Minute Maid Park outfield to steal opponents’ signs from the catcher to the pitcher. That feed would then reach the Astros’ video replay room, where someone would then relay the signs to people in the dugout. Bench coach Alex Cora eventually got a TV placed outside the dugout with a feed of the center field camera.

Once the signs reached the dugout, players would use a bat or even a massage gun to bang a trash can loud enough for a batter to hear. If someone hit the trash can once or twice, it meant some kind of off-speed pitch was coming. The players would leave the trash can alone if it was going to be a fastball.

MLB’s investigation found that the Astros used sign-stealing practices throughout 2017 and into the 2018 regular season. The league did not find any violations from the Astros in the 2018 postseason or 2019 season.

Who was punished for the Houston Astros’ cheating?

Major League Baseball handed one-year suspensions to Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow in January 2020 while also stripping the organization of four early-round draft picks and dishing out a $5 million fine. Shortly after the punishments were handed out, the Astros fired Hinch and Luhnow. Hinch was hired by the Detroit Tigers shortly after his suspension concluded, while Luhnow is now an owner of soccer clubs in Mexico and Spain.

While the aforementioned punishments were as far as MLB went to reprimand the Astros, two other organizations cut ties with people associated with the cheating. The Red Sox fired Cora, who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017 before becoming the manager in Boston the following year. Two days later, the Mets fired Carlos Beltran, a World Series champion player with the Astros who never even got to manage a game in New York after being hired in November 2019. Cora has since been re-hired by the Red Sox, while Beltran does broadcasts for the New York Yankees

Notably, no active players were punished for the Astros’ cheating and MLB did not vacate the Astros’ 2017 title.

How many times have the Houston Astros won the World Series?

The 2017 World Series marked the first and only time the Astros have won it all.

The team made its first World Series as the National League representative in 2005 before getting swept by the eventual champion Chicago White Sox. Houston switched to the American League in 2013 and went 51-111, ending the year 11 games back of the next-worst team in baseball.

Still, the Astros had something brewing. Sports Illustrated came out with a cover story titled “Houston’s Grand Experiment” in June 2014, predicting the Astros as the 2017 World Series champions. Three years later, Houston came through by beating the Dodgers in a seven-game Fall Classic.

The Astros have reached the ALCS every year since winning the title and secured their fourth World Series berth in a six-year span with an ALCS sweep over the Yankees, the same team they beat in the controversial 2017 ALCS. Still, the Astros have yet to emerge as champions since 2017.

Here are Astros’ playoff results from the last six seasons:

  • 2017: Won World Series vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (4-3)

  • 2018: Lost ALCS vs. Boston Red Sox (4-1)

  • 2019: Lost World Series vs. Washington Nationals (4-3)

  • 2020: Lost ALCS vs. Tampa Bay Rays (4-3)

  • 2021: Lost World Series vs. Atlanta Braves (4-2)

  • 2022: Won ALCS vs. New York Yankees (4-0)