WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — On a day of reckoning they surely would have preferred to avoid, the Houston Astros largely stayed on message and consistent in their remorseful words regarding the electronic sign-stealing scandal that cast a permanent pall on their 2017 World Series title.
Yet there was a certain cognitive dissonance regarding perhaps the most important question that six hitting stars from that team faced during an hourlong inquisition Thursday:
How much did a scheme involving a video camera and monitor and the banging of a trash can help a club that won 112 games in all, including an 8-1 playoff mark at home on its way to the first title in franchise history?
“It was definitely an advantage,” shortstop Carlos Correa said in the team’s clubhouse on the first day pitchers and catchers worked out at spring training.
“I’m not going to lie to you, knowing what was coming, you get a slight edge. And that’s why people got suspended and people got fired, because it’s not right to do that.”
Seems simple enough, if difficult to quantify.
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That, of course, varies greatly from the message imparted by owner Jim Crane in a press conference that preceded the players’ clubhouse comments.
“Our opinion is, you know, that this didn’t impact the game,” he said. “We had a good team. We won the World Series, and we’ll leave it at that.”
Oh, but it did.
Impossible to quantify? Certainly, simply because receiving a pitcher’s signs via ill-gotten means doesn’t provide a 100% guarantee that the preceding pitch will be golfed into the stratosphere. But players have stolen signs via a baserunner at second base for decades, because it does provide an inherent advantage to know what’s coming.
As for the Astros’ trash-can banging scheme, outfielder Josh Reddick says it simply could provide a pick-me-up at a point a hitter is struggling through the eight-month grind that comes with winning a World Series.
“I guess it could go back to the way I was feeling that day, if I was struggling or a tough lefty that I didn’t like facing,” says Reddick, a career .263 hitter who batted a career-best .314 that season. “You pick your poison.
“It was a good year for me so I know how that’s going to come off looking.”
Jose Altuve heads to the field to work out on Thursday. (Photo: Jeff Roberson, AP)
Even worse, of course, were the playoffs, where the Astros steamrolled the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers at home. Correa confirmed that the system remained in place but was far harder to execute in a playoff setting, with crowd noise and opponents taking greater care of mixing their sign sequences up. Previous published reports indicated the Astros revised their modes of communication come October 2017.
“To be honest with you, the regular season is when we used it the most,” says Correa. “When it comes to the playoffs, it’s loud, people were using multiple signs at the stadium because of rumors or what was going on at the time.
“When I look back at the playoffs and look back at the game, it was not as effective as the regular season. The trash can was there, yeah. But I remember them using multiple signs and it was impossible to decode all those signs.”
But it definitely happened and even if Crane reiterated that it was “hard to determine” how much it helped, certain players leaned on it more than others. A partial accounting provided by a Houston Astros fan who analyzed banging noises during 2017 home games determined Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa used the system in 14 to 16% of their at-bats, while Reddick and Altuve were around 3-4%.
No matter, says Altuve.
“I want to take this as a team,” he says. “We are all on the same level right now, of feeling the way we’re feeling, doing what we did. I’m not saying, ‘You and you, more than you and you.’ I always say, this is a team, and if (one of us) are something, we all are something.
In 2020? The Astros insist it will be all quiet from the third base dugout. Winning another 100 games with what many presume will be heightened scrutiny and security from MLB might also help.
“It definitely was an advantage,” says Correa, “but it stops. It didn’t happen in 2018, at all, didn’t happen in 2019 at all, it’s not going to happen moving forward.”
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