Astros throw sportsmanship away: Dealing with the aftermath of Trashcangate

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Cedric Chan

Varsity baseball head coach Gabriel Stewart discussed with students the implications of the Astros’ famous “Trashcan-gate” scandal

By Elana Eisenberg

Sportsmanship is one of the biggest values instilled in Los Altos athletes every year. Coaches talk with their players about morals and honesty, and several Eagles teams have even received league sportsmanship awards in recent years. Varsity baseball head coach Gabriel Stewart talks to his players each year about ethics and morality, but preaching these values to high schoolers can’t be an easy task to undertake when Major League Baseball (MLB) is still spinning from Trashcangate—arguably one of the dirtiest and most controversial instances of cheating in the history of the organization.

If you watch video clips of the Houston Astros playing the Chicago White Sox in 2017, you can hear a loud double-bang coming from the Astros dugout right before the White Sox pitcher throws each curveball. Looking back, it appears that this pattern is present in all of the Astros’ home games that season, including the World Series, which they won that year. Nicknamed “Trashcangate,” this setup was one of the most convoluted and high-tech systems to steal pitching signs in the history of baseball, and people are still divided over the punishment the Astros received.

In November 2019, “The Athletic” published a detailed story in which sports reporters Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich explained how the Astros used a camera in centerfield to pick up pitch signs and stream the video into a back hallway. From there, someone in the dugout either hit the trash can with a bat (indicating that the pitcher was going to throw a curveball) or didn’t (indicating a fastball).

After the article was published, MLB conducted an investigation of the Astros, found the team guilty and put a five-part punishment into place. Firstly, Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager (GM) Jeff Luhnow were suspended for the 2020 season and former assistant GM Brandon Taubman was suspended for one year. The Astros were also forced to forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks for the next two years and the team was fined $5 million. Hinch and Luhnow were later fired by the Astros.

To sum it all up, the Astros scandal has been in the spotlight for the past few months, and everyone who’s involved in baseball—other MLB teams, the media, coaches and players across the country—seems to have an opinion on Trashcangate.

“When the Astros were not forthcoming in their remorsefulness, that rubbed a lot of people the wrong way,” Stewart said. “When every baseball player who’s not an Astro is visibly angry and upset at the Astros, that shapes public opinion.”

As far as the Astros’ punishment goes, Stewart argued that although $5 million is the maximum fine allowed under MLB’s constitution, it’s an insignificant amount of money for a franchise that generates billions of dollars in revenue.

“It’s not what matters to teams or to players. For the players, their ability to play is what matters,” Stewart said, pointing out that the Astros players were granted immunity and the ability to continue playing in exchange for information about the scandal. “If you wanted the Astros to be destroyed as a franchise, that’s not happening. The only way we’ll be able to tell if the punishment was effective is if this never happens again.”

However, many people think that a similar incident is very likely to reoccur in the major leagues, even if it’s not at the same level as Trashcangate. First baseman senior Conner Kendall acknowledged that stealing signs has been a part of baseball for a long time.

“Plenty of people [steal signs]—even high school teams do it sometimes—but I just feel like the way they did it was very wrong,” Conner said. “I don’t think their punishment was enough.”

Right fielder senior Peter Daseking and center fielder junior Colby Cook also want to see more restrictions from MLB. However, while Peter believes that the Astros should have been stripped of their 2017 World Series title, Colby has a slightly different take on the situation.

“[The Astros] still had to have a great team to get all the way to the World Series,” Colby said. “I don’t think that’s how they should have won it, but I don’t think [MLB] can really punish them. They just have to be stricter.”

It’s highly unlikely that anything as complicated and controversial as Trashcangate will occur at the high school level, but Coach Stewart still believes it’s important to have frequent  conversations with his players about sportsmanship and integrity.

“The one thing I always say to my players is, ‘Look, we’re gonna do everything we can do to win while remaining within the boundaries of the game morally and ethically,’” Stewart said. “I think they have a pretty good idea that we’ll take notes, watch tendencies and look at past games. But we’re not going to do anything where I’m going to have one of my players put on the other team’s uniform and sabotage them. That’s not me. That’s not us.”