Why The Houston Astros Being In The World Series Has Sparked Controversy

The Houston Astros are poised to make their fourth World Series appearance in five years. Around the U.S., some people aren't so happy about that.

It's hard to say this year's team doesn't deserve to be there. They won 106 games during the regular season and are so far undefeated in the postseason, per Sports Illustrated. Their pitchers had the second-lowest ERA in baseball this season at 2.9 and were also high on the list of most strikeouts per nine innings at 9.5, according to Fox Sports' stats. In the postseason, their hitters have hit the fourth-most home runs at 12 (via Fox Sports). A quarter of those came in Game 1 of the American League Champion Series (ALCS) against the New York Yankees, according to Sports Illustrated.

After sweeping the Yankees to move on to the World Series, they stand at 7-0 in the postseason, tied for second-most games ever won to begin a postseason (the Kansas City Royals hold the record with an 8-0 start in 2014) (via ESPN). This was also their sixth straight appearance in the ALCS. Though only one of those involved controversy, the scandal of it has haunted the Astros ever since.

The sign-stealing scheme

In 2017, the Astros won their franchise's first and only World Series, and it wasn't until two years later that the news broke: Their win had come, in part, through cheating. That season, the Astros had an elaborate system to give their batters an edge over the other team. During home games, they were stealing signs from the other teams' catchers — noting which hand motions corresponded to which type of pitch — by setting up a camera in the outfield that was zoomed in on home plate. A TV monitor near their dugout allowed them to watch the signs, and once they'd figured out what each one meant, they communicated that information to their batters by making specific, loud noises. Banging on a trash can was one that stuck with people and is still used to taunt the Astros five years later (via The Athletic).

The scandal came to light thanks to a 2019 article in The Athletic. A former Astros pitcher, Mike Fiers, had given them the scoop. He disapproved, saying, "That's not playing the game the right way."

After the article's publication, Major League Baseball (MLB) began its own investigation and corroborated the journalists' findings. In January 2020, MLB's commissioner punished the team with a $5 million fine and the loss of certain high draft picks. He also suspended the team's manager and general manager for a season, but the team fired them later that day. These sanctions were some of the harshest MLB has ever handed down.

The aftermath

According to ESPN, after the scandal, the Astros brought in veteran manager Dusty Baker (above) to help remake their image. The team's roster has changed radically since the incident, with only five players remaining from 2017. The Houston Press noted this year that the team's second baseman — José Altuve, who was with them in 2017 — remains one of the most hated players in baseball, according to a Twitter survey. The Houston Press claims he wasn't involved in sign-stealing. However, Altuve had significantly better stats at home than away that season, which was true for the rest of the team, too, because they weren't sign-stealing during away games (via The Athletic).

ESPN theorizes that the Astros' success this year is partially due to the insults they still receive about the scandal. Even though few of their current players were around in 2017, it doesn't matter, because the 2017 team's actions are "stone carvings" in the minds of baseball fans, ESPN says. Will that galvanize them enough to lead to another World Championship?