In the 1964 movie Goldfinger, James Bond, played by Sean Connery, finds himself in the crosshairs of a rather delicate situation after he has been strapped to a table with a laser pointed down at him.
It is while he is in this predicament that Mr. Bond, James Bond utters the famous line, “Do you expect me to talk?” to which his captor Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe, gleefully gives the equally famous reply “no Mr. Bond I expect you to die.” Before going any further it should be noted that James Bond did not in fact die by being lasered in half and went on to have various other fictional adventures.
I was recently reminded of the classic scene from Goldfinger while reading stories about Major League Baseball’s (MLB) investigation that placed the Houston Astros in the crosshairs of one of the largest cheating scandals in the history of the sport. The details of the findings read an awful lot like something that could have come off of the typewriter of Ian Fleming, the man behind the James Bond novels, and also the author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We will delve more into the second book in a bit.
For those who may not be aware, the MLB commissioner’s office recently completed an investigation into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.
As a result of those findings, three managers and a general manager who had ties to the Astros during the 2017 season have been fired leaving the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets searching for new leadership mere weeks ahead of the start of Spring Training. The Astros were also forced to forfeit four draft picks.
According to the report, the cheating involved a series of high tech and low tech means to steal signs from opposing teams in order to give the Astros an advantage at the plate by knowing what pitches were coming. As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “epic launch angle equals the ball traveling many feet.”
Okay, so every ill-gotten hit by the Astros during the 2017 season wasn’t an out of the park dinger, but the scheme did allow them to hit the ball extremely well, and extremely often, when playing in their home ballpark.
So how does one alter the outcome of the home games they play in the 21st Century? According to the allegations outlined in the MLB report it involves a couple of fairly simple, albeit highly unethical steps.
Step 1, place a camera in center field and aim it directly at the crotch of the opposing catcher.
Step 2, make sure that the feed from said catcher crotch cam can be viewed within sunflower seed spitting distance of the dugout.
Step 3, find a bat, these are usually lying around most MLB dugouts.
Step 4, find a trash can. This can be plastic or metal depending on preference.
Step 5, take bat and go chitty chitty bang bang on trash can whenever the catcher crotch cam indicates that the catcher has called for an off-speed pitch such as a breaking ball, or a curve ball.
Step 6, repeat Steps 1-5 for all batters on your team. Remember to only bang the can slowly during off speed pitches, no bang on the can means they are bringing the heat.
To be clear, sign stealing is of course as old as the game of baseball itself. However, it is the lengths that the Astros went to, and the use of digital devices that caused them to run afoul of the commissioner’s office.
In Scooby Doo parlance the Astros may have continued to get away with their cheating being their dirty little secret had it not been for what they would likely call a “meddling” former player from the 2017 team going public with what he knew. By blowing the lid off of the trash can so to speak, he went against centuries of baseball lore where one only whispers about the dirty deeds allowing disagreements to be policed internally and civilly through bench clearing brawls that inevitably involve the poor relief pitchers having to travel the length of a football field just to arrive after the fight is over before traveling another football field’s worth of distance back to their seats in the bullpen.
Many people have gone on record as saying that the cheating should have remained hidden, while others have applauded the whistleblower for sharing a welcome breath of honesty in a dishonest world. As is the case for all things, history will decide how he will be remembered for his actions. Despite federal protections and other statues whistleblowers often face more blowback than a fastball up and away to keep the batter from crowding the plate. Of course, the 2017 Astros would have known when to crowd the plate, and when to back away thanks to the tone of the two bangs on their trusty trash can.
There is no way of knowing whether the Astros could have won the World Series in 2017 without cheating, but the fact that they did win it while cheating likely leaves many baseball fans in cities like Los Angeles (lost to Astros in World Series) and New York (Lost to Astros in American League Championship Series) wishing they had a laser to strap people to so that they could get some answers.
To be clear I am not suggesting that anyone build an evil lair in an abandoned warehouse and construct a table made out of gold with a high-powered laser attached to it for interrogating people. Instead, just look on a vacation home rental site under the heading of laser equipped evil lairs. Again, I am joking but if anyone has an under-volcano lair available the third week of March let me know.
Since the initial release of the report, additional allegations have arisen from the vast shores of public opinion that claim that Astros players wore buzzers on their body to tell them what pitches were coming as a way to give the trash can a night off now and then. Related to buzzergate, the MLB commissioner’s office noted that no evidence of electronic buzzers or other devices being worn by players was established. The players implicated by the buzzer conspiracy theorists also deny using them. Despite these protestations of buzzer free play, there are likely to be more allegations made as everything done by players on the Astros for the past three seasons is likely to go under the microscope of crowd sourced group think.
While the investigation into the Astros only centered on the 2017 season, MLB is expected to release their findings on an investigation into allegations that the Boston Red Sox cheated during the 2018 season, which coincidentally was the year that they won the World Series. The loser in both 2017 and 2018 was the Los Angeles Dodgers who very likely could have old wounds opened up that are wider than the Chavez Ravine that holds Dodgers Stadium if it is revealed that the boys in Dodger blue were bested two straight years by teams found to have cheated.
Regardless of the outcome of the Red Sox investigation it is clear that the public trust in America’s Pastime has eroded somewhat.
Fans will undoubtedly wonder whether the effort they are witnessing on the diamond is from hard work and preparation, or from shortcuts and cheating. It is not the first time that scandal has befallen the game and in all of the previous cases the game has survived since diamonds are forever.
With another baseball season on the horizon time will tell if the fallout from this scandal merely leaves baseball shaken, or if it gets stirred down to the core.
Copyright 2020 R. Anderson