The Yankees were upset at the Astros for whistling from the dugout to allegedly steal signs during the ALCS in October, but one former Houston pitcher has come out as a public whistleblower on far more serious offenses involving the use of electronics in 2017.
Mike Fiers and three other unnamed sources have admitted to The Athletic that the Astros stole opposing teams’ signs during home games at Minute Maid Park during that season with the aid of a camera positioned in the outfield.
“That’s not playing the game the right way. They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win,” said Fiers, who played for the Astros from 2015 to 2017 and was non-tendered after Houston won the 2017 World Series over the Dodgers. “I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing.”
Fiers, who has pitched no-hitters for both Houston (August 2015) and Oakland (May 2019) in his career, also admitted that he informed teammates in Detroit and Oakland what the Astros were up to after leaving Houston.
“I told the teams I was on, I didn’t know how far the rules went with MLB, but I knew they (the Astros) were up to date, if not beyond,” Fiers said. “I had to let my team know so that we were prepared when we went to go play them at Minute Maid.”
When the Astros figured out opposing teams’ signs, they’d signal for a breaking ball by banging on a trash can, according to the report.
Danny Farquhar, who had a brief stint in the Yankees organization this year before retiring, noticed the noise while pitching for the White Sox in Houston in 2017.
“There was a banging from the dugout, almost like a bat hitting the bat rack every time a changeup signal got put down,” Farquhar told The Athletic. “After the third one, I stepped off. I was throwing some really good changeups and they were getting fouled off. After the third bang, I stepped off.”
Farquhar said he and his catcher changed up their signs and the banging stopped.
One major-league manager told The Athletic that illegal sign-stealing “is an issue that permeates through the whole league,” adding that MLB “has done a very poor job of policing or discouraging it.”
League rules explicitly ban the use of electronic equipment to steal signs between the catcher and pitcher or to relay that information to batters or dugout personnel.
Still, MLB hasn’t publicly reprimanded any team for violating those rules since September 2017, when the Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch in the dugout in an August game against the Yankees at Fenway Park.
The Athletic reported that MLB’s current investigation into the Astros’ front office following the firing of assistant GM Brandon Taubman — over inappropriate comments directed at three female reporters concerning closer Roberto Osuna and his history of domestic violence — could be expanded to determine the depth of the club’s sign-stealing practices and whether they extended beyond 2017.
“Beginning in the 2017 season, numerous Clubs expressed general concerns that other Clubs were stealing their signs,” MLB said in a statement to The Athletic. “As a result of those concerns, and after receiving extensive input from the General Managers, we issued a revised policy on sign stealing prior to the 2019 season. We also put in place detailed protocols and procedures to provide comfort to Clubs that other Clubs were not using video during the game to decode and steal signs. After we review this new information we will determine any necessary next steps.”
The Astros have yet to comment about these latest allegations, but the report cited team sources saying “the Astros’ arrangement required technical video knowledge and required the direct assistance of at least some members of the baseball operations staff.”