So the Astros asked for a Minute Maid Park camera out past center field to be taken off baseball’s officially mandated eight second transmission delay, trained live toward enemy catchers, and transmitting live to a dugout television monitor. Because, you know, they were convinced other teams, who knew just how many, were guilty of comparable espionage television networks from off the field and wanted to, you know, level the field a little bit if they could.
Thus reported Andy Martino of SNY Saturday, based upon sources who apparently asked not to be identified in print but had direct knowledge of what was said to the commmissioner’s Astrogate investigators. “They did not install a new camera for sign-stealing purposes, and the players and coaches involved did not even know which camera the feed was coming from,” Martino writes. “They wanted a monitor closer to the dugout, because their video room was too far away. They considered their actions to be in line with industry standards.”
Who were they? The original bombshell by The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Dillich came from former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers and “four people who were with the Astros in 2017,” all of whom presumably asked not to be identified just yet, if at all. Martino says commissioner Rob Manfred’s bloodhounds have spoken to “nearly sixty people” thus far. An existing video capture shows a former Astros reserve outfielder, Derek Fisher, traded to the Blue Jays in July 2019, standing in front of a table between the clubhouse and the dugout on which were mounted a television monitor showing nothing but two small video tablets showing anything but. And one of the sixty witnesses, according to the aforementioned sources, and presumably unprepared to put his name to it just yet, is quoted thus: “We did ask for a game center field feed to decode signs, as many teams do. All we asked for was a live feed.”
So they broke the rules but they didn’t quite have their own Alexander Butterfield to install a new device dedicated specifically to sign-stealing. Or did they? As Martino observes, it still leaves “questions about whether the camera was installed specifically for that purpose.” And, he asked one: did someone in the Astros front office approve buying a new camera, which would create a paper trail showing the team was preparing to cheat? His answer: “Sources say the camera in question was league-approved and already in place. One source suggested it could have been a scouting camera, which would have been its league-approved purpose. That is more likely than a camera from the TV feed, which would have required the broadcast crew to participate in the scheme.”
It doesn’t acquit the Astros if the hounds turn up the evidence that, yes, there were a few other teams with high-tech espionage operations. Neither will it acquit them to say sure, we broke the rules, but, you know, we’re just the ones who got caught or exposed, and everybody or at least a few others did it, too, so we needed to get in on the fun, too, presumably to nullify the disadvantages. But the everybody-does-it/everybody’s-done-it argument simply disintegrates. Graduate the argument to, say, American political life, then ponder what the everybody-does-it/everybody’s-done-it argument implies, regardless of the partisan or ideological divide, with too many examples that candor requires the intellectually scrupulous to confront.
“As far as MLB is concerned, any use of electronics to facilitate sign stealing is illegal,” Martino wrote. “Even Astros witnesses are conceding to investigators that such actions took place, because the feed was aired on a monitor behind the dugout. At this point, the question appears to be not if the Astros broke the rule, but how and to what degree they did it.” Bang-bang! You’re dead. Or, facing consquences at least as considerable, potentially, as those by which former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa got himself and his organisation slapped after he was caught red-winged hacking into the Astros’ computer scouting database.
They may only begin with punishments administered to general manager Jeff Luhnow, who isn’t necessarily the most popular or respected administrator in the game, and manager A.J. Hinch, who looked to all the world like a schoolboy who knew his trouble only began after he came out of the principal’s office, when buttonholed by the press at the now-concluded winter meetings. It strains credulity now to believe Hinch, heretofore respected for the successful marriage between intelligence and sensitivity somewhat uncommon among major league managers in any era, was the cat caught unaware that the mice raided the refrigerator.
Astro fans aren’t the only fans bracing for revelations as to whom among their players and their coaches were really in on the fun and why, not with the credibility of three American League Wests, two pennants, and one World Series championship under suspicion. But any other team found to have built and operated their own electronic off-field intelligence television networks shouldn’t exactly be clearing space for their Emmy awards, either.