During the 2018 postseason there was a bit of a thing involving the Indians and Red Sox thinking that the Astros were stealing signs and/or spying on their dugouts via the stationing of a team employee nearby. That controversy came and went with Major League Baseball issuing a statement that nothing untoward had happened.
Flash forward to this week and, once again, someone is accusing the Astros of stealing signs. This time, however, the accusation involves a far lower-tech means of doing it. From Andy Martino of SNY:
Yankees players and coaches became angry with the Astros during Game 1 of the ALCS when they noticed a whistling sound in the Astros’ dugout — which they believed was an over-the-line example of sign stealing, and a violation of the game’s unwritten rules.
According to three sources, a Yankees coach noticed a whistling sound in the opposing dugout on certain pitches on Saturday night in Houston. The Yankees started yelling across the field, and people in the dugouts argued back and forth.
“The whole dugout was pissed,” said one source. “Everyone was chirping.”
It’s all very muddy, as these things always are, but at some point it’s probably worth noting that if the Astros were stealing signs in Game 1, it didn’t bother Masahiro Tanaka much. He tossed seven shutout innings. Relevant? I dunno. That usually doesn’t stop either the complainers from complaining or the defenders defending. I just thought I’d throw it out there.
Anyway, as these stories always do, the famous “unwritten rules” have been invoked, and — surprise surprise — no one seems to be totally sure how they cut.
The general rule: sign stealing is OK, but not if you’re using technology to do it. In Martino’s story an anonymous coach asks whether there’s a further distinction between flashing your teammate a visual cue of what a pitch might be but the audio cue of a whistle might be too much. The coach thinks so, but he also adds “honestly I don’t know where to draw the lines anymore.”
We’re right there with ya, dude.
But that “no technology” rule is more than an unwritten rule these days, right? Remember when the Red Sox were busted for using Apple watches to relay signs? In the wake of that, MLB said that was an official, as opposed to an unwritten, no-no. I bring that up because a coach from a team other than the Yankees is quoted in Martino’s story suggesting that what may have been happening here is that the Astros are picking up signs — or tipped pitches — via video or other electronic means and that the whistling is the team’s way of signaling it to the batter. If that happened, well, there is more to this than just beefing. There’s an actual rules violation.
My guess, though: we get no satisfying resolution one way or another, if MLB even bothers to weigh in they’ll do what they did last year and say that nothing definitive or untoward has taken place, and everyone will move on. And that’ll be the case even if something untoward has taken place, because they really, really, do no want this kind of controversy in the middle of the postseason.