Technology unleashed baseball’s Analytics Era, which was a blessing for statistics-hungry fans. But now, some say tech is holding the sport prisoner. At least, it’s revealing human nature in action.
In 2017, A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora, and Carlos Beltrán were participants in a triple play of hubris. Hinch and Cora were coaches with the Houston Astros and Beltrán was a player when they developed a system to steal opponents’ signs. It turns out, what they did isn’t fair play in baseball. It’s cheating.
Video replay can be a valuable tool in sports. Using it honestly is the catch. Should a hitter get to view his last at bat in between innings? He might detect a problem with his stance or swing. Any good coach would encourage that, right?
But what if, while reviewing the batter’s performance, that coach gets a glimpse of the other team’s catcher signalling which pitch he wants from the mound? He rewinds and takes notes. That’s what the Astros did, and someone cried foul.
It’s legal in baseball to steal signs—as long as it’s done with the bare eye. But using tech tools for surveillance is completely out of bounds. As the Astros picked up on those signs, they developed a means of communicating with the batter at the plate. Banging trash can lids by the dugout might mean a fastball was coming. Spitting in the clay along the first-base line could warn of an upcoming slider.
With the system exposed, Astros team managers came under fire last fall. Hinch and the General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, were quickly relieved of their positions. Beltrán, retired from playing, had a pending coaching position with the New York Mets. He lost that job.
Cora had moved to management with the Boston Red Sox. New charges piled on the heat. Reports say he used video replay to communicate illegally with Sox baserunners in 2018. He too was relieved of his duties. It seems that all who hoped to be first by any means have found themselves last. (Matthew 20:16)
Suspicions that already existed now affect everyone in the game. Video cameras keep an eye out in the dugout. Bench and bullpen telephones are monitored for improper communication. Television feeds inside team clubhouses operate on a minimum eight-second delay. That prevents prying eyes from decoding signals in real time.
Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent supports the stricter regulations. He called the cheating “a serious problem for baseball” that “had to be stepped on very firmly” to crush it. Letting it play out would ruin the game.