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Astros — and Red Sox — sign-stealing scandal, explained: How did they cheat? Why is Alex Cora MLB’s main culprit?

Michael Dwyer | AP
Michael Dwyer | AP
Boston Red Sox manger Alex Cora speaks during a news conference at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday, Sept. 30, 2019.

Grab your helmet: There’s another cheating scandal in the Boston sports scene — MLB’s sign-stealing scandal.

This one has been simmering for a while, but exploded Monday when Major League Baseball dropped the punishment hammer on the Houston Astros.

So why is everyone worried about the Boston Red Sox and manager Alex Cora? And how exactly did these teams cheat? Here’s a quick explainer for those who need to catch up.

What’s the scandal? How did the Astros cheat?

It’s believed that, back in 2017, the Astros had a team employee improperly viewing a video feed of the game to watch the opposing team’s catcher and try to figure out which pitches were coming. The Astros would then bang a trash can if they caught on that a breaking ball or some other off-speed pitch was coming. This gave the batter a huge advantage.

Sign stealing is relatively common in baseball and not illegal. However, the use of technology to steal signs is.

There was also a second scheme where the Astros would use the team replay room to help decode catchers’ signs to the pitcher. Remember this. We’ll come back to it.

Did it work for the 2017 Astros?

Yup. Really well. They won the World Series that year.

Note: The Astros could only pull this off during home games, when they had access to the video feed. As a result, a number of Houston players had way better stats at home than on the road.

But why is Alex Cora involved?

Before he was the manager of the Red Sox, Alex Cora was the bench coach of that 2017 Astros team. Not only was he on the team, the MLB investigation determined that the whole thing was Cora’s idea while manager A.J. Hinch was actually against it, though he did not shut it down.

So, the Red Sox are involved too?

Remember that second scheme about the replay room from earlier? The Red Sox are under investigation for doing the same thing during their 2018 World Series run.

This once again puts Cora in the spotlight, this time with him as the manager, and brings the Red Sox into the mix with this scandal.

How did the video replay scheme work?

Once again, this is something that only worked at home.

At Fenway Park, there’s a “replay room” steps away from the dugout that managers can use to figure out whether they want to challenge plays.

That means teams have quick, direct access to video replays of close games. It also means they have footage of the catcher signaling the pitcher.

The Red Sox are accused of having players slip into that room to analyze catchers’ signs to help decipher them. At that point, there was no one monitoring how teams used this room.

So what about the trash can banging?

Currently, there are no accusations or evidence suggesting the Red Sox repeated the Astros’ scheme to signal hitters.

What happened to the Astros?

Here was the MLB’s punishment that was announced Monday:

General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for a year. Shortly after, they were both fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

Former assistant GM Brandon Taubman was also banned for a season.

The Astros lost their first and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts.

Houston was also fined $5 million.

What’s going to happen to Alex Cora?

We don’t know yet, but it’s not going to be good.

MLB named Cora 11 times in their findings on the Astros cheating scandal. Cora was identified as a major figure in the development and execution of the scheme. Meanwhile, Hinch was said to be against the scheme in the first place, though he did not explicitly shut it down.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan is reporting that Cora is expected to receive “harsh” discipline with a suspension that “is bound to be far longer” than Hinch’s.

Will the Red Sox fire Alex Cora?

That’s the question on everyone’s mind in Boston right now.

How did this scandal start?

Before the Astros were involved in any sort of sign-stealing scheme using electronics, the Red Sox were actually wrapped up in another scandal.

Back in September 2017, the Red Sox were accused having a team trainer receive text messages on an Apple Watch about the opposing catchers’ signs. Once again, this involved the video replay room. MLB later ruled that the Red Sox did violate rules and fined them.

After this incident, the league sent out a memo to teams about video replay rooms. It essentially read, “Stop using the video feeds to steal signs.”

The Astros and Red Sox kept using the video feeds to steal signs.

How did everyone find out?

The whole investigation actually started because of reporting from Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, with former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers confirming to them both schemes from the 2017 season.

Later, Drellich and Rosenthal published another major article, reporting that the Red Sox participated in a similar sign-stealing scheme.

The reports from The Athletic spurred MLB into action, leading us to where we are now.

So what happens next?

We now wait for the MLB investigation of the Red Sox to wrap up and to see what sort of punishment they have in store for Cora.

Until then, it’s all speculation over whether the team should fire him.

 



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