Kenny Archer: Cheats using cameras as well as being caught

The Houston Astros won baseball's World Series in 2017 - but apparently they bent (and banged) the rules to do so.

‘MLB finds Astros guilty of sign stealing, GM and manager banned for a year’

It wasn’t just the American-style headline on the BBC website which puzzled me. Nor was it the acronyms: I understood MLB (Major League Baseball) and GM (General manager), realising that there’d be no punishment for genetic modification in Trump’s America.

But ‘sign stealing’?!

Sure, theft is a crime, but such a lengthy ban seemed excessive.

Picturing tipsy student-style hi-jinks, what real harm could have been done?

Perhaps there were attempts to make the opposition arrive late at the game venue, or get lost on their way from the dressing room to the diamond.

Reading beyond the headline – top tip, that’s usually a useful exercise, folks – enlightened me as to what the Houston Astros had actually done.

Yet even then it was still somewhat surprising that two of their main men received such long suspensions, as well as the club being fined the maximum $5m and losing their first and second round draft picks for this year and next.

The wrong-doing consisted of allegedly apparently illegally using a camera to record the signs made by opposition catchers to pitchers. The former signal with their fingers to the latter to let them know which pitch to deliver – and it’s an advantage to the batter to know what type of ball is coming at them, of course.

Despite their ‘space age’ moniker, the Astros reportedly didn’t use advanced technology to pass on this important info.

Instead, the method of relaying the illegally acquired information was hilariously, gloriously, well, rubbish – allegedly the Astros banged on a bin in the clubhouse.


Were there different signals?

One bang for a slow ball; two for a fast ball; three for a slider (or is that a hot dog?).

Of course, the batter still had to deal with the delivery, but sport is often about getting an advantage over your opponent.

It all seems rather reminiscent of that ridiculous plot to cheat on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ by coughing when the correct answer came up on the screen.

Yet the Astros did win the ‘World Series’ in 2017 (their first ever such success), the season when it’s said they’ve, er, ‘bin’ up to no good.

And there are similar claims of ‘sign stealing’ against 2018 World Series winners Boston Red Sox, while the Astros got back to ‘the Fall Classic’ last year.

They were beaten by the Washington Nationals, representing a city in no way associated with corruption, which maybe explains why the franchise no longer goes by the name ‘Senators’.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, in a nine-page ruling on the matter, declared: "I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline.

"The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated.

“And while it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game."

Personally I’d ban Manfred for using ‘impacted’ in that manner; what the heck is wrong with ‘affected’, people?!

To be honest, these misdemeanours don’t bother me, quite the opposite: there’s a sneaking admiration for the sneaky ingenuity involved. Perhaps my admiration for the art of Italian defending in soccer goes some way towards explaining that.

Obviously if I were a supporter of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost both World Series in 2017 and 2018 I might feel differently. However, I’ve no bias towards the Astros or the Red Sox, instead ‘following’ (in the loosest possible sense), the Dodgers’ successors in New York, those Amazin’ Mets.

To me, the sign-stealing bin-banging is just a step along the road of trying to work out opposition line-out calls in rugby, which are no doubt even more closely scrutinised in the modern age.

One’s attitude towards ‘cheating’ probably depends to a large degree on which team you support (and those you hate more than others).

While everyone else ‘cheats’, your players are ‘clever’.

When other teams ‘cross the line’, your side ‘pushes the boundaries’.

The phrase ‘marginal gains’ has been largely discredited due to travelling pharmaceutical circuses but almost everyone tries to get an edge in sport.

Bending the rules is more frowned upon in some sports than others. `It’s just not cricket’, we’re told - but there’s been plenty of ball-tampering and pitch altering over the years.

Although the practice may not be specifically outlawed, breaking wind, out of any orifice, is probably frowned upon in professional golf, even if those wrong kinds of wind were often a factor at the level of golf I played.

Releasing air in another way is just one of the ‘cheating’ accusations levelled at American football’s New England Patriots, with their superstar quarterback Tom Brady deemed – by no less an institution than the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals – to have deployed under-inflated football ins what became known as `Deflategate’.

The Patriots have also been accused of video-taping opposition defensive signals and walk-throughs, going back to the early years of this century.

Ironically, cameras can play a positive part and are increasingly catching out the cheats, as well as helping them.

VAR, which has caused so much annoyance and controversy, does appear to have significantly reduced the incidence of diving in soccer, while rule-benders and breakers in cricket, golf, indeed all sports have to keep an eye out for the electronic eyes keeping watch on them.

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