AJ Hinch lost his job for allowing the poster theft process to take place. (AP: Matt Slocum, file)
The Major League Baseball (MLB) and its current champions, the Houston Astros, entered damage limitation mode after the winner of two of the last three World Series championships was found guilty of using technology to steal signs.
The use of technology by the Astros, among others, to achieve an unfair advantage makes this a potentially innovative sanction, with the prospect of more to come.
And the league is taking this very seriously, imposing a one-year ban on the Astros manager, AJ Hinch, and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
Those are the longest penalties imposed by the league since former Cincinnati Reds player and coach Pete Rose was expelled for life in 1989 for betting on games in which he played and trained.
The league also fined the Astros with the maximum possible of US $ 5 million ($ 7.25 million) and stripped them of their first and second round selections for the next two seasons.
But why is signal theft so important, and is there a warning to other sports about how they embrace and control the use of technology?
Jeff Luhnow, right, and AJ Hinch helped form the Astros on one of the most dominant sides in baseball. (AP: Pat Sullivan)
What are the signs and how do you steal them?
The next time you watch a baseball game, you may notice that the receiver makes some finger signals before the pitcher throws the ball.
These signals indicate to the pitcher what he should throw, such as a fast ball or a curved ball, and where they should aim.
Trying to decode posters used by an opposition receiver does not go against the rules and has been happening to unsuspecting receivers and coaches for years.
Baseball Australia’s head coach and Brisbane bandits David Nilsson, former receiver of the All-Star Game with the Milwaukee Brewers, said the signs are really easy to decode.
“[Signs] they are much easier to interpret than people think … if you look at a receiver you can pick it up very quickly. “
Nilsson, who played 837 games for the Brewers in an eight-year major league race, mostly as a receiver, knows something about the signals and how to hide them from your opponent.
“There are a lot of things [a catcher can do to hide the signs he is giving]”Nilsson said.
“If you are lazy or just not good, your signals can be detected quite easily,” he said.
The receivers help determine where a pitcher places the ball to stop hitters hitting home runs. (AP: Charles Rex Arbogast)
Nilsson explained, therefore, that signal theft was a slightly misleading term.
“Stealing signs is an exaggeration,” Nilsson explained.
“It’s really about transmitting signals. The difference is cheating versus taking advantage of an opponent.”
‘Cheating’ with technology
As a batter, knowing what the pitch will be is very advantageous for your chances of hitting the ball.
“When you hit a baseball, you have to make a calculated guess, that’s how the hit works,” said Nilsson, who hit 105 home runs in the Major League and recorded 789 hits.
“If you think about Shane Warne and he’s going to throw a fin, for example, if you know he’s going to be throwing a fin, you’re more likely to deal with it.”
Knowing if Clayton Kershaw is going to throw a fast ball or a slider would be beneficial for the batter. (AP: Tim Bradbury)
But stealing signs is nothing new. In fact, it’s really not illegal in the game.
The difference in this case is that technology was being used, which is a big no-no.
“In real time, [signs] it may take a little time to retransmit and decrypt, “said Nilsson.
“Occasionally, in a game you have a genius player who can choose and decipher signals very quickly … but not much happens.”
Using technology to steal signs, on the other hand, is a different matter.
“[Teams] systematically configure your electronic devices to cheat … you can’t defend yourself, “said Nilsson.
“It’s a trap”.
Were the Astros the only team involved?
The triumph of the Houston Astros of the 2017 World Series is contaminated as a result of the findings. (AP: David J Phillip)
Actually, it wasn’t the Astros who were caught doing this first.
That dubious honor falls to the Boston Red Sox, who were imposed an undisclosed fine for stealing posters and communicating that information through the smart watch to the shelter during a series with the New York Yankees.
At that time, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred issued a reminder to the 30 major league teams that any future violations would be subject to more serious penalties.
However, the Astros continued to steal signals during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, including their 2017 World Series title: the first Astros championship.
“There was a warning, but some teams ignored that warning,” Nilsson said.
So the Astros kept stealing those signs?
The Astros trained a camera in the receiver and used the live broadcast to electronically communicate to the bank what was signed for each launch.
By hitting a beverage container on the bench, the Astros bank was able to communicate different pitches to the batter in real time.
This was directed, according to the MLB research department, by bank coach Alex Cora, who is now a Red Sox coach, who is also under investigation.
(Ah, yes, the MLB has a research department, which will not be a novelty for Simpson fans).
The investigation, which involved interviewing 68 “witnesses,” reviewed tens of thousands of emails, communications, text messages, video clips and photographs.
The rules need to catch up with technology
The use of technology to provide real-time analysis to the coaching staff is very advanced.
Nilsson said the rules now needed to catch up with how that technology was implemented.
“The rules were not written for 2020 technology,” said Nilsson.
“All sports meet [technological advances] otherwise, it is not new in any sport. “
Since MLB sanctions came out, Hinch and Luhnow have also been fired from their work in the Astros by owner Jim Crane.
“When I found out, I was very upset. We want to be known playing according to the rules,” Crane said at a press conference.
“None of those guys implemented this or pushed it through the system … but none of them did anything about it.
“That is unfortunate and the consequences are serious.”
The Australian sport knows all about the fault for inaction, and in the same way that the ball manipulation scandal promoted major changes in the attitude of the national men’s cricket team: this decision could have a great impact on baseball in the near future.