Just Because You Have The Technology Doesn’t Mean You Should Misuse It

Technology can be great. It has changed humanity for the most part for the better and has made our lives incredibly easy when compared to our ancestors. Today we can communicate with people at any corner of the globe and we have the vast repository of human knowledge at our fingertips. Need to know the answer to a question? You can in a matter of seconds. But just because technology exists, should you use it? Technology’s use at this time faces serious ethical questions and a recent example highlights that.

2017 Champions

The Houston Astros were the 2017 World Series champions. For the Astros, who took their first title ever, it was a long road to this point. They had suffered through numerous losing seasons that had allowed them to hoard talent that happened to fulfill their promise at just the right time. Even during the season there was adversity as Hurricane Harvey hit Houston hard. The Astros were certainly a feel good story at the time.

Everyone related to the team was celebrated. Owner Jim Crane had his moment. General Manager Jeff Luhnow was the hottest executive in sports having built the Astros up from bottom feeder to champion. Manager A.J. Hinch at 42 years old was one of the hot young managers in baseball and was expected to helm what would become a dynasty. The Astros maintained their place at the top going to the American League Championship Series before bowing out to Boston (led by one of their former coaches in Alex Cora) in 2018 and before making it back to the World Series in 2019 only to fall to the Washington Nationals.


After the World Series loss things started to go south. A report from Evan Drelich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic highlighted that the Astros had used electronic equipment to steal signs during the 2017 season. There had already been rumblings of this as former Astro pitcher Mike Fiers had let the secret slip and it was perhaps the worst kept secret in baseball. Other teams were concerned and the Nationals even completely overhauled their signs during the 2019 World Series. Fiers had told his teammates on the Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s about what the Astros had done to prepare them.

The Astros positioned a camera in centerfield with the express purpose of stealing the catcher’s signs. Team personnel set it up to use for challenging calls on the field with a monitor hooked up in the hallway between the clubhouse and the dugout and it evolved from there. Employees and players watched the feed in real time and tried to decode them. When they had, they would then relay what was coming to the dugout where someone would bang on a trashcan to let the hitter know what was coming. 

While sign stealing is not against the rules, utilizing technology for this purpose is. Reportedly then-player Carlos Beltran, who was struggling at the plate and had been the beneficiary of this scheme with another team, came up with the idea and Cora was responsible for implementing it. When Cora became the manager of the Red Sox he brought the scheme with him. Apparently several other teams around baseball did the same thing as well so it was not the Astros that came up with the idea or were uniquely guilty. They were just the most high profile or got caught.

Giving The Hitter The Advantage

Hitting a Major League pitch is one of the hardest things to do in sports. The uncertainty of whether a fastball, a changeup, a slider, a curve or a myriad of other pitches is coming is enough to make hitters look foolish and that is before a catcher determines the location and the pitcher throws it at a certain speed. A hitter has about a quarter of a second to react and if they are not quick enough, well, if you have ever played baseball you know what happens. By knowing what kind of pitch is coming it made the job just a bit easier for the hitter.

This is of course not even new to baseball in this past decade or even this century. One of the most famous home runs ever hit allegedly was aided by someone in centerfield doing pretty much the exact same thing. A New York Giants player or coach used a telescope in the team clubhouse to steal the catcher’s signs and relayed them via a buzzer to the dugout and bullpen. Different numbers of buzzes determined which pitch was coming. This act may not have been against the rules in 1951 but it helped to lead to a rule barring sign stealing by optical or mechanical means in 1961.

The Fallout

The penalties for this have been harsh for the parties involved. After the report from The Athletic Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred launched an investigation which concluded on January 13. Both Luhnow and Hinch were suspended for a year by Major League Baseball with Crane firing them both only an hour later. The team also forfeit future draft picks, received a $5 million fine and the assistant GM was also suspended (he had been already fired for a separate issue). Cora, still the manager of the Red Sox, was also suspended by Baseball and subsequently let go. The Red Sox themselves may face further punishment as they had been guilty of using an Apple Watch to steal signs during the 2017 season and using their replay room to steal signs during their own 2018 championship season. That investigation is still ongoing.

Even Beltran was not immune even though Manfred said he would not punish players involved as many of them had moved on to other teams. Beltran had since retired and become the manager of the New York Mets. He stepped down on January 16 without ever having managed a game for them in one of the shortest managerial stints in baseball history.

For everyone involved these are harsh penalties but for some have not been harsh enough. For Luhnow, Hinch, Cora and Beltran this may become a de facto lifetime ban from the game just like Pete Rose and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson received, though they have not been officially banned and are still young enough to resurface. It forces the teams involved to conduct a managerial search only weeks before the start of Spring Training putting all involved in an awkward position. For the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost to both the Astros in the 2017 World Series and the Red Sox in 2018, they want those teams stripped of their titles and awarded to them.

Using Technology Ethically

This all underscores the ethical use of technology in today’s world. If the technology exists it has the potential to be misused. Whether it is being used for peeping or to steal or extort money from someone, technology has been misused. It underscores how difficult it is to stop it as well. You can put all of the rules and all of the laws in place but it does not stop its misuse. When caught, people can lose their jobs or be sent to jail but that does not seem to be an effective deterrent if the reward is big enough. 

Technology has been used for some terrible things. At least in the grand scheme of things losing a baseball game is not the end of the world but it just shows that unscrupulous people will do anything and use anything to get ahead. In this case here it may have cost several people everything as it is quite possible that Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran may never be employed in pro baseball again or relegated to the indy ball circuit. The titles that they helped to win are also forever stained and while it is highly unlikely that the Dodgers will be awarded the title, there will always be an asterisk by them. 

Do you want to be remembered like that? Hopefully not.

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