Before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the start of the 2020 season, the main storyline across Major League Baseball was the Astros' sign-stealing scandal.
There was a widespread rage aimed at players like Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa for their involvement — and lack of punishment — in a sign-stealing scheme involving a camera in center field feeding a catcher's signals to Houston's clubhouse in real-time, which would then be relayed to the batter before the pitcher delivered.
Sign-stealing in baseball is nearly as old as the game itself, but introducing technology into the equation gave the Astros an unfair advantage that helped them win a World Series in 2017. Before, baserunners on second base would look at the catcher's signs and try to deliver them to the batter if they could figure it out.
It wasn't a perfect system by any means, especially compared to the Astros, but on some occasions, it would work out for the hitter. Shortstops like Cal Ripken Jr., who noticed a baserunner trying to steal signs, had his own form of sign-stealing justice.
"In a really harsh way, you tell the pitcher to put down a curveball, the guy on second tells the hitter that a curveball's coming, and then you throw a pitch [at the batter's head]," Ripken said on The Takeout podcast with CBS' Major Garrett. "And I'll tell you that you break the trust between that sign-stealing scheme that's going on with the hitter."
Nothing sends a message like a 90+ mph fastball headed straight for your head.
Still, almost by baseball fan alive would rather deal with the Astros' mess than live in a world without baseball. MLB has not yet returned from its delay, though commissioner Rob Manfred has said on multiple occasions he expects baseball to return in 2020.
Once the game returns, Ripken believes it'll have a calming effect on the public and serve as a means of escape from the challenges of everyday life during a global pandemic.
“I think the big thing is, they just want to get back and provide people with the chance to escape or look at something in an entertaining sort of way,” Ripken said. “It makes them feel good, it makes them feel comfortable.”
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