Amidst a Title-Winning 2022 Season, Ghosts Still Haunt the Houston Astros

Jonas Weinmann, Sports Editor

November 5, 2022 marked the end of the 118th World Series, the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in the United States and Canada. In a fiery battle that lasted 6 games (the victor must win 4 out of the total 7 possible games), the Houston Astros were able to outlast the Philadelphia Phillies and win their second World Series title. 

The Astros had been dominant all-season long, winning 106 out of 162 games, and the postseason was no different. Kick-starting their postseason, they faced the Mariners off a bye and saw Yordan Alvarez hit a walk-off missile in right field in Game 1 of the series. They proceeded to handily win the series 3-0. Next up, the Yankees. They faced the “unstoppable” Aaron Judge, who had broken the American League record for most Home Runs in a season, and a Yankees team desperate for a World Series title. Judge had a 0.063 batting average during the series and the Astros won 4-0. The Astros then proceeded to the final and finished off the red-hot Phillies, silencing the team to a 0.163 batting average after they batted 0.235 in the the rest of the playoffs. There was no way to deny the dominance of the 2022 Astros. 

The cheating saga continues today.

That had been what the Astros were missing: a legitimate title (at least according to the fans). Their other title came in 2017, where they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games. They were similarly dominant, notching 101 wins in a 162 game season amid their path to a World Series title. However, in 2019, Mike Fiers, a former Astors pitcher, revealed to The Athletic that the Astros had stolen opposing teams’ signs during home games in the 2017 season. 

In baseball, signs are the signal that catchers make to pitchers to determine what pitch will be thrown. For example, if a catcher puts one finger down and the pitcher agrees to the call, it usually means a fastball will be thrown.

This, in turn, led to a MLB investigation that revealed that during both the 2017 regular season and postseason, and during the 2018 regular season, the Astors had stolen signs. The Astros had done this by using a center field camera at Minute Maid Park (Astros home stadium) that analyzed the opposing team’s catcher signals and the pitchers response to figure out what each sign meant. This allowed the Astros to signal to their at bat players what type of ball the pitcher was planning on throwing. They would use a bat or massage gun to bang a trash can that would alert the Astro players at bat. If the trash can was banged once, it meant the ball was a curveball; if it was banged twice, it meant the ball would be an off-speed pitch like a slider or change, and no bangs at all meant a fastball. The Astros regularly used this to help them throughout the regular season and to win a World Series title back in 2017.

The punishments – more the lack of one – handed out by the MLB shocked and outraged the MLB community. MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, banned Astros’ manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for one year, and they were subsequently fired by the Astros (although Hinch found a job less than 72 hours after his ban was lifted, becoming the manager of the Detroit Tigers). The team was also fined $5 million and docked of several top draft picks. 

The lack of punishment for the players, who were heavily involved in the sign-stealing scheme, and the decision not to strip the Astros’ 2017 title outraged fans and other players alike. Judge, who finished second in M.V.P. voting for the AL and losing to the Astros in seven in the AL Championship, said “I was pretty mad, pretty upset. To hear that you got cheated out of that opportunity, that’s tough to kind of let go.” He added “I was sick to my stomach.” Dodgers player Cody Bellinger said, “I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an M.V.P. from Judge in ’17,” and “Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.” 

The cheating saga continues today, with more rumors swirling that the Astros were stealing signs using an electronic buzzer that would alert players at bat what pitch was coming in 2019. These rumors started after Altuve hit a 84 mile-per-hour slider into left-center field to clinch the 2019 AL Championship Series for the Astros over the Yankees. As Altuve rounded third base and headed for home, he pointed to his shirt and motioned and told his teammates not to rip off his jersey. Many fans and baseball analysts questioned why Altuve, who had just hit a walk-off home run to send his team to the World Series, would ask his teammates to not rip off his jersey in celebration. Altuve was also the first Astros player to go into the locker room and change into a t-shirt. Further rumors circulated when Josh Reddick wore something that looked like a buzzer device during his TV interview. The players have denied ever wearing such devices, and the MLB did not find any evidence to support these claims. However, the MLB said they can’t be sure they never wore such devices.

Nevertheless, the 2022 Astros found a way to combat all the cheating scandals and rumors that plagued their recent playoff success.