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Brush up on your trash talk: Everything you need to know about the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal

If you’re a casual fan who needs the tea on our latest matchup, we explain the Astros’ cheating scandal in the 2017 World Series.

A ball girl removes an inflatable item in the shape of a trash can behind Houston Astros rightfielder Michael Brantley during a game at the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2021.
A ball girl removes an inflatable item in the shape of a trash can behind Houston Astros rightfielder Michael Brantley during a game at the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2021.Read moreMarcio Jose Sanchez / AP

It’s official. The Phillies are set to play the Houston Astros in the World Series, a team whose reputation was tarnished by a 2017 cheating scandal. And we all know Philadelphia doesn’t take kindly to cheaters.

A lot has changed since the initial cheating drama unfolded, including the Astros’ coaching staff and most of their players.

But if you’re a casual fan who needs the tea on the Phillies’ latest matchup, here’s what you need to know about the Astros’ cheating scandal.

» READ MORE: Phillies-Astros World Series: Schedule, tickets, lottery, and everything else you need to know

What did the Houston Astros do in 2017?

The joke practically writes itself — the Astros cheated with trash cans (because they’re trash, duh).

According to Major League Baseball investigators, the Astros used cameras in center field and other technology in order to steal opposing teams’ signs throughout the 2017 regular and postseason. Signs are the physical cues pitchers and catchers exchange to signify which pitch to throw next.

The game of trying to decode signs and anticipate pitches is an age-old practice in baseball. What’s different here is that the Astros staff and players devised a system — using video replay systems, television monitors, phones, and trash cans — to tell batters what to expect and how to respond.

Investigators said the Astros used center-field cameras — which are used for challenged call reviews — to watch and steal opponents’ signs.

During their World Series championship season in 2017, Astros players relayed signs to teammates in the dugout and the teammates passed those on to whoever was at-bat. According to the investigation, then-bench coach Alex Cora called the video review room during the season to get signs. Other times, the signs were texted to a smartphone kept in the dugout. Cora had a television monitor installed outside the Astros’ dugout, where players could watch the center-field camera feed.

» READ MORE: Red Sox manager Alex Cora fired in sign stealing scandal (from January 2020)

From there, Astros players banged on trash cans in different rhythms to signal to the batter what kind of pitch he should anticipate.

The Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. Investigators said the Astros continued to steal signs in 2018.

The official Major League Baseball investigation confirmed that the team had stolen signs.

What was the aftermath of the Houston Astros cheating scandal?

The cheating scandal gained traction among athletes — within MLB and beyond — as well as fan bases across the country, questioning the legitimacy of the Astros’ World Series title.

Former player Mike Fiers told The Athletic that when he went on to play for the Detroit Tigers, he warned his teammates that the Astros were cheating. Los Angeles Lakers basketball star LeBron James spoke out about how upset he would be if a team ever cheated him out of his title.

On Twitter, the scandal became a meme of sorts, with fans posting dramatic clips to poke fun at how the Astros would steal signs. Others posted their own replays and analyses of supposed examples of players cheating.

New restrictions were placed on video replays starting with the 2020 season. MLB barred catcher’s signals from being included in the replay videos to prevent sign stealing.

Of the 2017 team, only five players still remain with the Astros, according to the Houston Chronicle (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Lance McCullers Jr., and Justin Verlander). Of the 36 position players from that year, half are still in the majors.

This year, in an effort to deter sign stealing, MLB introduced the use of PitchCom devices, which allow catchers to communicate with pitchers about their strategy without physical signs that the opposing team could watch and decode.

» READ MORE: Like ‘playing a video game’: Phillies seeing the value in new tech that transmits pitch signals (from April)

Catchers wear a wristband with a remote control transmitter on the inside of their glove-side forearm and an earpiece in their helmet. The pitcher and as many as three players (typically the shortstop, second baseman, and center fielder) also have audio receivers in their caps. Rather than using his fingers to communicate the pitch type and location and a series of other signs, the catcher presses a button and instructions are provided verbally over an encrypted channel.

The new tech is optional, but MLB officials say all 30 clubs are using it now.

Were the Houston Astros punished for cheating?

The team kept its World Series title — a move that has been sharply criticized in the baseball world.

Even though MLB’s investigation found that players were behind the sign stealing, commissioner Robert Manfred called discipline against individual players “difficult and impractical.”

Still, the league fined the team $5 million and made the Astros forfeit first and second-round draft picks. Leadership also shifted. The Astros’ manager and general manager were suspended for one year, and they were fired in 2020. As noted by the New York Times, less than 72 hours after manager A.J. Hinch’s suspension was complete, he was brought on as manager of the Detroit Tigers.

How did the Houston Astros get caught cheating at the World Series?

A 2019 report by The Athletic that documented how the Astros cheated sparked MLB’s own review.

Former White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar told The Athletic that he could hear banging from the Astros dugout following signals for change-ups. Others on the inside corroborated the methods the team used to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers, the former Astros and Tigers pitcher, told The Athletic. “They [The Astros] were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

In two months, MLB investigators worked to interview ”68 people, including 23 Astros players, and collect more than 76,000 emails,” The Athletic said.

How does the 2017 World Series cheating scandal compare to other cheating scandals in baseball?

As noted by The Athletic, the Astros definitely aren’t the only team to try and take advantage of video replay feeds.

Video feeds were implemented in 2014 when the league launched instant replay. By 2015, illegal sign stealing was already looming. In 2017, both the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees were fined by MLB for communicating signs.

The Phillies even found themselves in hot water back in the 1900s for some vintage sign-stealing tactics.

» READ MORE: The Phillies were accused of using technology to steal signs 117 years before the Astros (from January 2020)

As noted by Bleacher Report, other major dramas include the 1919 Chicago White Sox conspiracy to lose the World Series as part of a gambling scheme and a 1980s collusion scheme against players that resulted in players’ strikes.

What does this mean when I’m watching the Phillies play the Astros at the World Series?

After the 2019 investigation into the Astros, the 2020 baseball season was mostly fan-less because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So in 2021 when baseball season returned, opposing fans really let the Astros have it.

When they played away games, they were met with boos, sneers, and jabs about being cheaters. Dodgers fans took it a step further last year, dropping inflatable trash cans onto the field. Other fans brought metal trash can lids as noisemakers when their teams played the Astros.

Now it’s time for the Phillies to take the trash out.

Game 1 is scheduled for Friday.