The Houston Astros sign stealing scandal: “The Art of the Steal”
CHARLOTTE, NC: If you think the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal is a big deal now, come back in twenty years and there will be even larger consequences unless something is done to correct the situation before it becomes an epidemic. The recent controversy is just the tip of an iceberg that has yet to reach its maximum capacity.
Two things were the driving forces behind the problem; technology and money. Both remain in the spotlight, which means future infractions are just a matter of time.
This is not to say that Houston is guiltless, nor does it condone their actions, but it does show that Major League Baseball has more far-reaching and greater concerns than to simplify the situation into one of merely stealing another team’s signs.
Moneyball tells the story of baseball and statistics
Baseball, more than any other sport, has historically thrived on a love affair with statistics. (An Examination of the Moneyball Theory: A Baseball Statistical Analysis) Though recently football has become almost equally enamored with using all manner of facts and figures to determine various strategies.
Back in the day, really good baseball managers were like human computers. They were able to keep seemingly infinite tendencies and minutia in their heads. Earl Weaver and Tony LaRussa were two of the best. Former Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux knew opposing hitters so well that he could literally make adjustments on the mound between pitches.
Curt Schilling didn’t rely on his memory. Shilling, and others like him, kept notebooks of self-compiled information that they frequently studied between innings.
Defensive shifts existed in baseball’s golden age, but they were usually reserved only for ultra-elite hitters like Ted Williams. Otherwise, there would be minor shifting on the infield, but nothing nearly as dramatic as the defenses of today where wild shifting occurs on almost every play.
The reason, of course, is the abundance of computer technology that is readily available at the touch of a button from virtually anywhere. Such mega statistics lead to analytics which has been incorporated into every telecast.
One of the favorite stats among modern announcers is the “launch angle.” Launch angle is the result of hitters today adapting their swings to compensate for defensive shifts by hitting the ball in the air. More batted balls in the air result in more home runs, but also greatly reduces strategy. In the long run, a diminished strategy also diminishes the game itself by eliminating so many specialized skills that once made the sport exciting.
Other stats are, more often than not, both tedious and useless. Who cares, for example, how fast a ball comes off the bat after it is hit?
Players today carry laminated cards so they don’t even have to think about where to position themselves. Catchers, like football quarterbacks, wear plastic wristbands that provide everything they need to know at a glance.
For all of its analytical advances, modern-day baseball has sadly been reduced to a game of strikeouts, walks, and home runs.
Add in the element of video replays which have not only virtually rendered the need for umpires as useless, but have also, for all intents, eliminated the good old fashioned “rhubarb” in an effort to supposedly get the call right. That would be fine except umpires still get disputed calls wrong far too often.
If this bothers baseball fans then they need to get ready because it is not going to be long before balls and strikes will be called electronically.
All of which leads us to the Astros’ use of technology in the Sign Stealing scandal. The effort was certainly unprecedented, but given the times why not try it?
Consider that the time from when one pitch is thrown until the next signal is flashed, stolen by the opposition, relayed to the dugout and on to the batter is minimal at best.
And what if the signal thief gets it wrong?
There are more variables at play here than simply a matter of thinking you know what pitch is coming next.
As one online publication observed, this was more of a “sin by the Astros than a crime.”
The Astros organization should have known they were playing with fire. But given the proliferation of electronic and technological advances, or intrusions, into sports as we know them, there will almost certainly be more Sigh-Stealing and “Astros-gates” in the future.
Chances are also good that our favorite sports as we now know them will be unrecognizable to us. And we can thank so-called “scientific advancement” for that.
If such changes are on the horizon, it’s a good bet that we have already been privy to the best each sport has to offer.
The Astros’ biggest error was hastening that demise.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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