Tag Archives: Houston Astros

Conspiracy Theories, Scandals and Public Trials: The Houston Astros Investigation on Twitter

By Griffin Olah

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey

The Houston Astros are a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam within the sports world. Everyone is focusing on the punishment, the crimes, and the reactions. The investigation, however, is no longer the focus. If you remember back to the middle of January, however, you may remember the craziest day in recent baseball history. This is the day that social media handed down the confirmation of the Astros cheating scandal that the MLB was looking for. Instead of a private investigation, the Houston Astros were tried by the public eye for the world to see, spawning some of the greatest stories in recent memory.

Once allegations came down, a relatively unknown podcast host and Yankees fan by the name of Jimmy “Jomboy” O’Brien saw his following grow faster than he could ever imagine. O’Brien, the proprietor of Jomboy Media, was best known for posting the video of Aaron Boone’s now-infamous “Savages in that Box” rant on Twitter (Young, 2019). When he saw the Astros allegations, however, he transformed into internet sleuth. When the world was in disbelief of the claims of the Astros cheating, O’Brien delivered a bombshell packed into a simple 2:20 video on Twitter. O’Brien cracked the code and found video proof the Astros cheated.

O’Brien’s initial tweet was retweeted over 37,000 times and liked more than 100,000 times. A lesser-known media man was now an internet sensation and the leading authority on everything Astros related. Then, the talk about buzzers leaked and Jomboy Media again went to work to expose the latest scandal. O’Brien found a new image containing what may have been an electronic buzzer on Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos’s batting glove. 

At the same time as O’Brien’s image came to light, a new account vied for interest. After the Astros fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, the Red Sox firing manager Alex Cora and the Mets firing their manager Carlos Beltran, it seemed like the scandal was done. Then, the buzzers came to light. 

A private account on Twitter, @S0_blessed1, began a tweetstorm that changed the landscape of MLB. The anonymous account accused Astros superstars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman of wearing buzzers under their jerseys to relay signs to them. Curiously, the account apologized to their “tio,” which means uncle in Spanish. Speculation immediately ran as to who the uncle was and why this person was exposing more possible methods used by the Astros on their way to a now tainted World Series victory. 

As the identity of @S0_blessed1 was being searched for, many reputable sources agreed with the account’s claims. Cincinnati Reds pitcher and noted critic of the Astros Trevor Bauer confirmed that he had heard talk within MLB about the Astros wearing buzzers. O’Brien also confirmed he was hearing similar things from sources in MLB. 

Amid this media storm, many people were looking for the identity of the anonymous account. Based on the “tio” comment, many pointed to Carlos Beltran, the disgraced former Mets manager. Since the account broke the news of Beltran’s firing days before the Mets formally announced it or any other major media outlets carried it, many believed the owner of the account was close to the former player and manager. 

Twitter then took the bait from Beltran’s “niece” and ran with it. Kenny Ducey found the home run in the ALCS that was mentioned in the “niece’s” tweets and slowed down the end of Altuve’s trot. The slow-mo video seems to show Altuve holding his jersey tight against his body and telling the mob of teammates at home plate to not rip off his jersey. Then, there is the disputed audio of Altuve possibly saying “I’m wearing a wire.” 

That last part, as already stated, had been disputed. Some have said that it is Altuve speaking Spanish, which many people would not be able to lip read and equate to a wire. Altuve himself did not dispute the fact that he didn’t want his jersey torn off, telling dugout reporter Ken Rosenthal that he, “got in trouble with [his] wife” for taking his shirt off on television in the past (Garro, 2019, para. 9). In the past few days, Carlos Correa came out and confirmed that Altuve’s wife was not happy with him for taking his shirt off and also mentioned an “unfinished tattoo that looked kinda bad” on his collarbone that he didn’t want to show on television (Anderson, 2020, para. 7). 

Obviously, possible proof that Altuve was wearing a wire in the 2019 postseason, which was not part of the Commissioner’s Report, would make the scandal grow even more with possibly worse repercussions. While immunity was granted to the players in relation to the investigation into the 2017 iteration of the sign-stealing scheme, a new investigation may not be so kind. The potential ramifications are mind-numbing to think of, and the accusations themselves destroy any possible respect or goodwill for the team. 

Without Twitter and the dedication of the public to get to the truth, none of this would come to light. While the Commissioner conducted his own report, the findings are limited when compared to the scope of the Twitter investigation. Clearly, all Twitter sources are not to be trusted, and some here are untrustworthy. As the days wore on and the tweets from @S0_blessed1 became more and more ludicrous and eventually disappearing, the account’s credibility was called into question. Eventually, it was determined that the account was run by a noted Twitter troll, or someone who dispenses false information for comedic or personal value, and almost none of the information was considered true. But if the account made up all its claims, why is there so much evidence supporting it? 

Twitter is often seen as a cesspool of false and fake information, which is true in part. Some believe that it has no value in modern society, which can also be true. Nobody, though, can diminish the role that social media, and Twitter, in particular, played in the investigation into the Astros’ nefarious ways. One of the main principles of journalism is to be the watchdog for larger government entities, corporations, and organizations. On January 16. 2020, Twitter took on that role and conducted its own investigation. Without internet sleuths like Jomboy, Kenny Dacey and so many others, the full extent of this scheme may never have been realized. Maybe in the future, Twitter and the public as a whole can solve more of these mysteries and bring to light the wrongdoings of teams, organizations, corporations and other massive entities like the Houston Astros.

References

Anderson, R.J. (2020, February 16). Astros’ Carlos Correa fires back at Cody Bellinger, reveals new reason why Altuve didn’t want jersey removed. CBS Sports. Retrieved from: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/astros-carlos-correa-fires-back-at-cody-bellinger-reveals-new-reason-why-altuve-didnt-want-jersey-removed/

Bauer, Trevor [@BauerOutage]. (2020, January 16). I’ve heard this from multiple parties too, for what it’s worth…[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/BauerOutage/status/1217888647468310528?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1217888647468310528&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fsports.yahoo.com%2Fa-new-astros-cheating-conspiracy-theory-has-set-twitter-ablaze-205503577.html

Ducey, Kenny [@KennyDucey]. (2020, January 16). Altuve making sure he keeps that jersey on (via r/nyyankees)[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/KennyDucey/status/1217888139072745474

Garro, A. (2019, October 19). Congrats to the Astros for clinching a trip to the World Series in the most adorable way possible. Cut4. Retrieved from: https://www.mlb.com/cut4/jose-altuve-keeps-jersey-on-after-winning-alcs-with-homer

Jomboy [@Jomboy_]. (2019, November 19). Astros using cameras to steal signs, a breakdown[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/jomboy_/status/1194348775965437952?lang=en.

Jomboy [@Jomboy_]. (2019, November 18). I have no idea what an electronic buzzer looks like but someone just sent me this as a ‘maybe that’s[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/jomboy_/status/1196525061659906050?lang=en

Oz, M. (2020, January 16). A new Astros cheating conspiracy theory has sent Twitter into a frenzy. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved from: https://sports.yahoo.com/a-new-astros-cheating-conspiracy-theory-has-set-twitter-ablaze-205503577.html

Young, D. (2019, August 17). Jomboy is obviously good for baseball, and the Yankees should lighten up. New York Daily News. Retrieved from: https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/ny-jomboy-savages-mlb-bill-simmons-20190817-hho4pn2mlvcghjdmlozroxh4se-story.html

Setting the World on Fier

By Griffin Olah

November 21, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey

Since baseball’s inception, teams have looked for a leg up over their opposition. Whether that is the development of signs from coaches, the shift or stealing signs, it is expected and even encouraged that teams innovate new ways to win. The Astros, however, have taken it to a new level. Earlier this month, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers dropped a bomb on the unsuspecting baseball world: the World Series winning team in 2017 cheated.

In 2017, reports came out that the Boston Red Sox were using an unapproved Apple Watch in the dugout. Naturally, that revelation turned to thoughts of cheating, and the opponent did nothing to dismiss those. The New York Yankees, arch rivals of the Red Sox tossed in accusations that the Sox were stealing signs from their catcher. The MLB launched an investigation into the team, and found them guilty of cheating. On September 15, 2017, Commissioner Rob Manfred fined the Red Sox for their scandal and created a new discipline protocol to deter future teams (Davidoff, 2019).

At the same time, however, a far larger scheme was underway, which can now implicate 3 different MLB managers. In Houston, the Astros had a few veteran additions off to a slow start. It was then that a slumping addition who is yet to be named and a team official concocted the plan: they were going to electronically steal signs. Throughout the season, the Astros perfected the system: using a camera placed in center field to pick up the signs from the catcher, sending it to a laptop in the tunnel, where a staff member banged on a trash can to signal the coming pitch to batters (Passan, 2019). 

Fast forward to today, where the Astros are almost a certifiable dynasty. They’ve been to the past 3 World Series, hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy only in 2017. Mike Fiers, a pitcher on that World Series team had just given an interview to The Athletic where he detailed how the Astros stole signs during all home games at Minute Maid Park in 2017. The baseball world exploded, shrapnel strewn all across the baseball landscape. Did the Astros cheat their way to a championship? Who ran this whole operation? Was Alex Cora, former bench coach and current Red Sox manager, involved? What about former Astros DH turned Mets manager Carlos Beltran? Information was at a premium, and nobody could pay the price.

The media, of course, jumped at the bomb Fiers threw into the world. Every major sports news outlet was looking into the Astros allegations, and the MLB opened another investigation almost immediately. Some sources tried to prove or disprove the allegations. Most, however, either ignored, or misused statistical evidence. One ESPN article cited the Astros success on the road, both in win-loss records and batting lines (Schoenfield, 2019). While these are good surface-level stats, they don’t tell the full story. Home and away splits can illustrate the differences between the Astros’ play in Minute Maid Park and away from it, but sign stealing won’t show up as a large impact on traditional stats. If one was to look at isolated power (ISO) and strikeout rate (K%), the numbers would tell a different story. Stealing signs is going to give the hitter an upper hand, that part is undebatable, but that advantage may not be evident in hits. ISO is simplified to slugging percentage minus batting average, which shows the player’s raw power (Slowinski, 2010). The MLB average ISO is .140, with higher values showing that players are hitting the ball harder for more extra bases and home runs (Slowinski, 2010). The Astros in 2017 paced baseball with a .196 ISO as a team, .56 higher than average (“Major League Team,” 2019). The Astros also bested the league in K%, which shows the percent of at-bats where batters struck out, with 17.3%, which was only 1.2% lower than the second place Indians (“Major League Team,” 2019).

Most articles, however, strayed away from making judgements. They simply relayed the information and waited to learn more before going after the Astros’ rings. Some, however, made sure to point to the Astros’ checkered past. During the 2018, reports from Cleveland and Boston of a uniformed Astros employee recording the dugouts made the MLB first investigate the Houston franchise (Passan, 2019). This came along with allegations from that same year of Astros players clapping signals to tell the batter what the coming pitch was ( Passan, 2019). While the past of the Astros is important, constant reminders and retelling can sway opinions. If the narrative that the Astros are cheaters is pushed by the media, an investigation into the allegations can become difficult. Fans make up their notions of what happened, and those fan ideals can destroy a franchise.

While gathering information is vital in the process, making sure it is properly relayed is important. Statistics are among the few ways, along with video, to show the Astros have stolen signs. If their numbers are drastically higher, which some advanced stats like ISO show, then maybe there is creedence to Fiers’s claims. Those numbers, however, have to be given and shared with the public, as opposed to selective stats like batting average that can paint an incomplete and biased picture of the problem. The media has done a good job overall so far in their coverage of the Astros, but as always, some things could be better. It just so happens that with advanced sign stealing techniques, advanced and traditional stats could be the problem

References

Davidoff, K. (2019, November 21). Rob Manfred: Statement puts Astros in ‘serious’ sign-stealing trouble. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/11/21/rob-manfred-the-statement-that-puts-astros-in-serious-sign-stealing-trouble/

Major League Team Statistics. Fangraphs. Retrieved from https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=1&season=2017&month=0&season1=2017&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&startdate=2017-01-01&enddate=2017-12-31&sort=4,a

Passan, J. (2019, November 12). Ex-Astros pitcher Mike Fiers: Team stole signs with camera. ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28066522/ex-astros-pitcher-mike-fiers-team-stole-signs-camera

Schoenfield, D. (2019, November 12). What you need to know amid Astros sign-stealing accusations. ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28066847/what-need-know-amid-astros-sign-stealing-accusations

Slowinski, S. (2010, February 15). ISO | Sabermetrics Library. Fangraphs. Retrieved from https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/iso/