Cheating in baseball. What is being done to stop it?

Cheating in baseball, as in other sports, has existed since the game’s inception. From PED, cheating pitchers to sign-stealing. Unfortunately, experts claim that most players do not have problems with that since they do not want to rat out their team. The punishment for any cheating is usually non-existent or insufficient until the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.

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Scandals plaguing MLB

Since the steroid era, a period when many players were believed to have used performance-enhancing drugs which resulted in increased offensive output throughout the game, there had been illicit activities regarding baseball. This era lasted roughly from the ’80s through the late 2000s.


From then on, there have been some minor issues, but the biggest scandal to occur is Major League Baseball’s sign-stealing during the 2017 and 2018 season, which was revealed by journalists Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich in November 2019. Apparently, Mike Fiers, a pitcher who played for the Astros in 2017, said that a video camera had been used in centre field to film the opposing catchers’ signs to the pitchers. Other players of MLB teams heavily criticized this action, devoted fans were disappointed, and the punishment against Astros was the most severe MLB ever issued against any member club. They were fined with $5 million, but no players were punished because of their cooperation. One reason that the players avoided an official punishment was that they had not been notified of MLB’s policies in 2017. Even though some players said that they thought what they were doing was wrong.


Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A.J.Hinch were suspended for the entire 2020 season for failing to prevent the rules violations. Subsequently, both of them were fired. The punishment against the Astros was the most severe that MLB had ever issued against any member club. After that embarrassing fallout, the Astros players on the 2017 season apologized to certain degrees, since this scandal also led to lawsuits against the Astros and MLB.


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Many compare Astros’ cheating scandal to MLB’s PED scandal. However, Astros’ actions were so unexpected and shocking that they are far more criticized than the widespread PED scandal, which was neglected for decades. How different were these situations is best illustrated by a famous pitcher for Los Angeles Dodgers, Alex Wood, who commented on this situation by tweeting that he would “rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.”


In the same fashion, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, also implicated in these dubious activities, is expected to receive a harsh penalty upon completion of an investigation into illicit use of video replay rooms by the 2018 Red Sox. Cora was also the Astros’ bench coach during the 2017 season, so one can conclude how transparent this whole ordeal is.


The Baseball Stop, an online guide for baseball supplies says, “These are not the only innovative ways to trick your way into winning in baseball.” To look for cheaters in MLB, you can freely look beyond the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox. They are on every field in the MLB games, especially pitchers. They have a way of breaking the baseball’s rules in plain sight, and apparently, it is not much looked into.


Rob Friedman, an MLB and ESPN baseball analyst known on Twitter as “Pitching Ninja” said that ” Pitchers definitely cheat”. They do it mostly by applying ‘foreign substance’ which  the MLB guidebook forbids. These substances include mud, dirt, lubricants and similar which affects the way the ball moves, thus making it easier to manipulate with. Friedmann even commented that it is common to sneak in pine tar beneath the brim of the cap or a spot on the forearm.


What is being done to curb the cheating

Since the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, there have been many speculations on what is being done and what will be done to prevent this kind of cheating.


Major control problems occurred in 2014 with introducing technology in established rooms near each team’s dugout. In those rooms coaching staff could watch the live feed and decide whether to challenge a play. Players were also allowed into these rooms during games to consult videos of their pitching or hitting. However, any use of technology is forbidden where it is possible to decode the opponents’ signs during the game.


Derek Falvey, baseball executive, who is the president of Baseball Operations for Minnesota Twins of MLB said that it is tough to be responsible and aware of some things people do but that it is his ”responsibility to create the right environment”.


In like manner, Al Avila, the general manager of the Detroit Tigers, said that ‘’it is very hard to be on top of every little thing. But that’s where people you hire you have to have a certain amount of trust, honesty, and understanding of what is expected. And as the general manager, you better have your hand in everything.”


Starting with 2018 after admitting that it is increasingly difficult to monitor the inappropriate use of electronics, MLB has taken new steps to curb sign-stealing by placing an official in the replay room. Not only that, but it is required of general managers to sign a document that states that their teams were not knowingly cheating.

Perhaps many more changes are to come in the 2020 season, such as a severe limitation on access to the replay review room during games. Tony Clark, the union’s executive director, stated that it is ‘made clear to MLB that no issue is off the table, including player discipline’.