This Astros Off-the-Books-Employee, Sign-Stealing Soap Opera Is Getting Nuts

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This Astros Off-the-Books-Employee, Sign-Stealing Soap Opera Is Getting Nuts

Chicago Cubs

This season, the Houston Astros won 103 games, which is two more than they won during their 2017 World Series campaign. Naturally, the good times didn’t end with regulation, as they then swept the Cleveland Indians out of the postseason with three straight ALDS victories earlier this month, before taking Game 1 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, as well.

But the Astros’ now 2-1 deficit in that series isn’t the only cloud that’s formed over the potential end of their season. Perhaps you missed it late last night, but the Astros have reportedly been doing some shady stuff lately (and perhaps for a while).

During Game 1 of the ALCS (the only game the Astros have won so far), Fenway Park security removed an Astros employee from a media-credentialed area near the Red Sox dugout. According to reports like this one, the man, now identified as Kyle McLaughlin, who didn’t have any of the appropriate media credentials, had a small camera and was texting a lot while looking into the dugout. Hmm. But it gets much crazier than that, and for more than one reason.

First, there’s the unusual and secretive connection to the Astros and their owner. Yahoo Sports is reporting that, “While McLaughlin is not listed publicly as an Astros employee, photographs on his Instagram account (which has since been deleted) showed him wearing an Astros ID badge as he posed for a picture in 2016 with Astros owner Jim Crane.” And there are other photos of him next to a private plane decorated with the Astros’ logo. McLaughlin reportedly removed “Houston Astros” from his biography on his Instagram page Tuesday night, before it was deleted.

Here are some of those images and reports:

According to the Boston Globe, Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski was informed of the situation during Game 1 of the ALCS, and was later briefed by Major League Baseball. However, he dismissed the idea that McLaughlin influenced the outcome of Game 1 (though it’s possible he didn’t know the full story at this point): “It really is in Major League Baseball’s hands. I’m not concerned about it, though. That was taken care of very early in the game. That didn’t have anything to do with the game.”

The next weird wrinkle to this story is that the Cleveland Indians, who had just been swept out of the postseason, mind you, warned the Red Sox about this exact thing with this exact guy! That first image of McLaughlin in Passan’s tweet isn’t from the ALCS in Boston, it’s from the ALDS in Cleveland! McLaughlin was removed by security in Cleveland, too!

Now, I’m no fancy, big-city lawyer, but if you’re removed by security for doing something that is, at best, sketchy, and then do that very same thing again in a different city, I think it’s fair to say you (and your organization) know you should probably not be doing it. And for some reason, that makes it all the worse for me (there’s something about consciously cheating that’s worse – in other words, it’s not like the Astros can play the “we didn’t know!” card).

Well, now MLB is investigating the situation: “We are aware of the matter, and it will be handled internally,” MLB said in a statement (via the Boston Globe). Note that the Indians have filed a complaint against the Astros.

But the strangeness doesn’t end there. A source apparently told the Globe that “MLB’s investigation concluded the Astros employee was trying to determine if the Red Sox were using dugout video monitors to steal signs from the Astros.” Which … we’re supposed to believe that this seemingly off-the-books employee/acquaintance of Crane undertook the risks of texting and using a camera to look into the Indians dugout during the freakin’ ALDS, was kicked out for it, and then did it again in Boston, where he was kicked out for it again just to make sure the Red Sox weren’t stealing signs? That’s a seriously fishy explanation.

In fact, it is about exactly as convincing as former Cardinals analyst – and convicted hacker – Chris Correa’s argument that he was only hacking into the Astros database to make sure they weren’t cheating.

But – more weirdness! –  speak of the devil …

It isn’t actually clear if that’s the *real* Chris Correa, but his tweets/timeline/followers certainly suggest that it is. Freaking wild stuff, and hilarious if that’s actually him.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE. According to Jeff Passan, this is not even the first investigation into the Astros’ attempts to “gain competitive advantages,” which is a really nice way to say “cheating,” this season!

Per Passan, “During a late-August game against Oakland, A’s players noticed Astros players clapping in the dugout before pitches and believed they were relaying stolen signs to pitchers in the batter’s box, sources said. The A’s called the league, which said it would investigate the matter. It’s unclear what the result of the investigation was or whether it remains ongoing.” Two other Major Leaguers said they witnessed the Astros “hitting a trash can in the dugout” in recent years as a way to signal signs to the hitters, and the Dodgers reported that the Astros were stealing signs during the World Series last season. (Maybe Yu Darvish wasn’t just tipping his pitching – maybe the Astros were also stealing the signs?)

My word. This is a lot to digest.

Now, I want to add a small caveat here, because sign-stealing is a bit of a nuanced issue. In my opinion, players on the field – like a runner on second base, for example – is well within his rights to signal anything he wants to the batter at the plate. That’s the point of all the fancy signs and just a part of the game. But when you start introducing non-players, guys from the dugout, and especially technology and/or people in the stands, it’s just cheating. Full stop. Not like ha-ha cheating. Like, you’re messing up the game cheating. A player on the field is part of the game. A dude in the stands with a camera and an iPhone is just too much.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

So, from the sounds of it, the Astros were possibly caught cheating at least twice – Cleveland and Boston. Maybe you can argue that the Dodgers’ and A’s grievances weren’t hardcore cheating and, sure, fine, whatever*, but it helps paint a picture of how the Astros like to do things, doesn’t it? And it certainly helps me make up my mind about an off-the-books, twice-kicked-out Astros employee in the wrong section of the stadium, without the right credentials, with a camera, who was texting during the ALCS.

It’s a very bad look, and I hope the league takes this seriously and publicly. Also … this is just good drama.

*[Detective Brett here: yes, so maybe signaling from the dugout with noises doesn’t cross the “cheating” threshold, but query this: how were those players getting the signs in the first place? Wouldn’t someone have to be seeing them and then relaying them to the dugout in order for those players to then signal it to the batter? And isn’t the most logical method there the use of some kind of observational technology? Cameras trained on the opposing catcher from the stands, for example? Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater, I declare!]

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami