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MLB expands investigation of Astros after report of illegal sign stealing in 2017

Mike Fiers throws a pitch during the first

Mike Fiers throws a pitch during the first inning of a game between the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in Philadelphia. Credit: AP/Chris Szagola

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Astros are in trouble, again, this time for an alleged sign-stealing plot during the 2017 season that relied on centerfield TV cameras at Minute Maid Park to swipe catcher’s signals.

In a story posted Tuesday by The Athletic, the Astros are accused of deploying a system that used live footage from the camera to be viewed on a monitor situated between the dugout and clubhouse. Once a player or team employee viewed the signals, the message was relayed to the hitter by the low-tech method of banging on a garbage can, say to alert them of an offspeed pitch.

Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers served as the main whistleblower in the report, with Danny Farquhar, then with the White Sox, recounting his own experience during two stints at Minute Maid Park in September of 2017. For even more evidence, video expert Jimmy O’Brien — known by the Twitter handle, Jomboy — posted a breakdown Tuesday of Farquhar’s appearance, which included the audible banging noises to back his claims.

MLB in a statement said it is probing the accusations.

The news dominated the GM meetings, where officials from every team have gathered this week, and Astros GM Jeff Luhnow again found himself in the eye of the storm. It was only last month, during the World Series, that Luhnow had to terminate assistant GM Brandon Taubman for verbally harassing three women reporters after the team’s ALCS-clinching win over the Yankees, and now Taubman — a graduate of Syosset High School — could be a central figure in MLB’s investigation of this sign-stealing matter as well.

The Astros put out a statement Tuesday in the wake of the story, saying they had “begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball.” At first, Luhnow tried to shield himself with the statement, then spoke more at length. When asked if he previously was aware of these allegations, Luhnow nodded.

“Specifically, I’m not going to get into exactly what I knew,” Luhnow said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see. I’m sure there will be an appropriate time to answer that question. And I’m not trying to avoid it. I just think at this point we’re going to investigate it and figure out what the facts are. And then we’ll respond after that.”

The Athletic story did not say for certain if the Astros’ illegal sign-stealing practice continued into the 2017 postseason, when they beat the Yankees in a seven-game ALCS (the final two at Minute Maid Park) and later the Dodgers in the World Series (winning that at Chavez Ravine). But given the fact the Astros were accused of cheating that season, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was asked Tuesday if he was angry that the ALCS could have been won by illicit methods.

“Trust me, I appreciate your question and I am not going to comment at this time,” Cashman said. “I’ll leave that in the hands of the people that are paid to handle that responsibility, meaning the integrity of the game or the games, present or the past, so I’m not going to participate other than that.”

Dodgers GM Andrew Friedman said his team was aware of the Astros’ reputation going into the 2017 World Series and took countermeasures to protect their signs. While he didn’t want to address the allegations directly — suggesting it would sound like “sour grapes” —Friedman didn’t deny they were vigilant about suspicious activity to a degree.

“There was a lot of scuttlebutt going into the playoffs and going into the World Series,” Friedman said. “But I think we are way better equipped to handle it now than we were then. We also don’t want to create paranoia with your players. Like you want them to still be athletic and free and go out and compete. But again, we’re better at it today than we were then just by virtue of the fact of having more practice.”

MLB has added more security since 2017 as well, prohibiting outfield cameras between the foul poles of recording catcher’s signs and putting in an eight-second delay for the TV broadcast. But it’s an ongoing process to police these matters, and now MLB is forced to do so again, with the kind of attention they’d rather avoid.

But for all the focus on the game’s technological advances, and the nefarious uses of them, Cashman pointed to the central issue at play here. And he wasn’t talking about TV cameras or banging trash cans.

“I don’t think it’s as simple as technology,” Cashman said. “That’s one component of many tools that you can utilize in this game. It just comes down to how you’re going to go about your business. Are you going to follow the rules and the guidelines or not? It just comes down to choosing to break the rules or not choosing to break the rules. For those who make the dangerous decision to not play by the rules, those consequences will be in play for Major League Baseball to look at.”

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