As the 2021 MLB playoffs continue, one half of the World Series is set: The Houston Astros beat the Boston Red Sox 5-0 Friday night to win the American League Championship Series and advance to their third Fall Classic in five years.
Houston won its only championship in 2017, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. But that season has since been clouded in scandal. Major League Baseball investigated — and punished — the organization for stealing signs, and the team and its core players have faced constant reminders of it ever since.
With the Astros back in the World Series for the first time since one of the biggest scandals in baseball history broke, here are some of the key moments — from the initial allegations to today:
Nov. 12, 2019: In an article published by The Athletic, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers alleged the team used various sign-stealing methods during the 2017 season. Fiers said the team used a center-field camera to feed video to a room behind the team’s dugout. From there, players would bang on a trash can to alert hitters to what pitches were coming.
MLB’s official investigation, which began with The Athletic story, found that about two months into the 2017 season, then-Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran and other players discussed how to improve decoding techniques. Then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora had a TV monitor installed in the dugout for players and staff to use. From there, they devised a trash can-banging code to tip pitches. According to MLB’s investigation, this effort was largely player-driven.
Following the initial report, internet sleuths went to work, dissecting and posting video clips to track all of trash can banging.
Nov. 22, 2019: Sources told ESPN that MLB officials had asked players associated with the organization what they knew about a range of alleged sign-stealing techniques.
At the time, those techniques were rumored to include: “buzzing,” via the use of Band-Aid-like wearable stickers; furtive earpieces; pitch-picking algorithms; and other potential methods.
Jan. 13, 2020: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the findings of the investigation.
He said he held general manager Jeff Luhnow “personally accountable for the conduct of his club. It is the job of the general manager to be aware of the activities of his staff and players, and to ensure that those activities comport with both standards of conduct set by club ownership and MLB rules.”
The report stated that manager AJ Hinch did not devise or participate in the scheme. However, he also did not stop it. Though he did twice smash the video monitor to show his displeasure.
The report also said that the scheme was not used when the Astros returned to the World Series in 2018 and lost to the Washington Nationals.
As a result, Luhnow and Hinch were fired by the Astros. The team was fined $5 million, the maximum amount it could be penalized financially. Hinch was suspended from managing for one year.
Jan. 14, 2020: After being implicated in the report, Cora, who was hired as the Red Sox manager in 2018, and the club mutually agreed to part ways while awaiting punishment from the league.
This was the day of the Carlos Beltran “niece” tweets that alleged the use of buzzers and the internet went wild — though none of that was ever proved.
Jan. 28, 2020: The Astros announced the hiring of Dusty Baker as their new manager. The deal was for one year and included a team option for the 2021 season.
Feb. 6, 2020: Hinch, in an interview with MLB Network, didn’t dismiss the idea that Houston’s 2017 World Series championship had been tainted by the sign-stealing scandal.
Altuve said the Astros had a “great team meeting” and said the “whole Astros organization feels bad for what happened in 2017.”
“[I] especially feel remorse for the impact on our fans and the game of baseball,” he said.
Feb. 13, 2020: New York Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman said that Altuve’s actions at the end of the 2019 ALCS were “a little suspicious.” Chapman was also part of the Yankees team that lost to the Astros in the 2017 ALCS.
In the final game of the 2019 ALCS, Altuve hit a series-ending walk-off home run against Chapman. As Altuve rounded third base, he clutched at the collar of his shirt, yelling at teammates not to rip off his jersey — actions that have since raised speculation about whether he might have been wearing some kind of device that tipped him off to the identity of the forthcoming pitch. Those allegations were never proved, and teammate Carlos Correa said Altuve didn’t want to have his jersey torn off because he didn’t want to show a bad tattoo.
Feb. 16, 2020: Manfred defended the punishments handed down in response to the sign-stealing scandal, even though no Astros players were punished and the team kept its 2017 World Series title.
In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech, Manfred said MLB would institute new rules to police the use of technology before the 2020 season.
Feb. 18, 2020: At the start of spring training, players around the league were not pleased about the scandal.
“You cheated and you didn’t earn it,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said of the 2017 World Series championship won by the Astros. “It wasn’t earned the way of playing the game right and fighting to the end. The biggest thing about competition is laying it all out on the line, and whoever’s the better player, better person, comes out on top. And to know that another team had an advantage — nothing that you can really guard against — I just don’t feel like that’s earned.”
Feb. 22, 2020: In the spring training opener of 2020, the Astros were booed upon taking the field to face the Nationals.
In addition to the team being immediately booed at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, many fans in the stands had signs with asterisks.
July 20, 2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no fans were allowed to attend games and no fans were in any ballpark to boo the Astros.
July 28, 2020: During the first meeting between the Dodgers and Astros since the sign-stealing scandal came out, Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a fastball behind Bregman’s head and later taunted Carlos Correa on the way back to the dugout. MLB initially handed out an eight-game suspension to Kelly for inciting the bench-clearing incident. After an appeal, the suspension was reduced to five games,
Kelly said his anger toward Astros players had more to do with how they handled the sign-stealing investigation than the actual cheating itself.
“The people who took the fall for what happened is nonsense,” Kelly said as a guest on “The Big Swing,” a podcast hosted by teammate Ross Stripling. “Yes, everyone is involved. But the way that [sign-stealing system] was run over there was not from the coaching staff. … They’re not the head boss in charge of that thing. It’s the players. So now the players get the immunity, and all they do is go snitch like a little b—-, and they don’t have to get fined, they don’t have to lose games.”
Oct. 8, 2020: After going 29-31 and getting into the postseason because of the expanded playoff format in 2020, the Astros defeated the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS to reach their fourth straight ALCS. They eventually lost to the Rays in seven games.
Oct. 19, 2020: Luhnow again denied knowing about the Astros’ sign stealing, and said individuals who were involved with the scandal were still working for the club.
Luhnow told Houston TV station KPRC he got access to 22,000 text messages from Astros video room personnel after he was fired. He said the messages — which were part of MLB’s investigation into the scandal — clearly showed the scope of the cheating and exonerated him from wrongdoing.
In response, Manfred disputed Luhnow’s account of the events: “I think it’s pretty clear from the facts that Mr. Luhnow failed to discharge that obligation. He damaged the game, and as a result, he was disciplined.”
Nov. 9, 2020: Luhnow filed a lawsuit against the Astros for breach of contract, seeking more than $22 million after alleging his firing was through a “negotiated resolution” between owner Jim Crane and Manfred that allowed the Astros to keep their 2017 World Series championship.
Luhnow’s attorneys wrote in the filing that the agreement between Crane and Manfred “scapegoated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in.”
April 2, 2021: Playing on the road in front of fans for the first time since news of the scandal broke, the Astros were booed loudly in Oakland with chants of “Cheaters!” heard regularly during the series with the A’s. “Got to hear some boos, finally. That wasn’t fun to listen to, I didn’t think, but we played good so it didn’t matter,” pitcher Zach Greinke said after Houston won the series opener 8-1. “Hopefully we’ll keep playing good and it won’t be as big of an issue.”
In addition to signs, there were many chants of “Astros suck!” “Cheaters!” and “Where’s your trash can?” Altuve, Bregman, Correa and Yuli Gurriel also received nonstop boos when up to bat.
“You can tell the amount of hostility and the amount of hatred in the stands,” Baker said after one game. “How many in the stands have never done anything wrong in their life? We paid the price for it. How many people have not cheated on a test or whatever at some point in time? I mean it’s easy if you live in glass houses, but I don’t think anybody lives in glass houses.”
July 11, 2021: With the Astros facing the Yankees, Altuve and Judge went head-to-head. The Astros shortstop got the last laugh with a walk-off home run. Altuve rounded home with his shirt off.
Oct. 10 2021: White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera implied the Astros might have stolen signs during their division series, saying, “They’ve obviously had a reputation of doing some sketchy stuff over there,” and pointed to Houston’s home/road splits this season. Baker pushed back against Tepera’s comments, calling them “heavy accusations,” and pulled no punches himself: “I had never even heard his name before we played the White Sox.” He added: “So I don’t have much response to that other than I was listening to Eric Clapton this morning, and he had a song, ‘Before You Accuse Me (Take a Look at Yourself).’ … You know what I mean? That’s all I got to say.”
Houston went on to defeat the White Sox to reach their fifth straight ALCS.
Oct. 22 2021: The Astros eliminated the Red Sox in Game 6 of the ALCS to reach their third World Series in five years.