When the Nationals faced the Astros in the 2019 World Series, the public didn’t yet know Houston’s electronic sign-stealing scheme helped propel the club to its first championship just two years prior.
But less than two weeks after Washington beat the AL West champs in seven games and claimed a World Series title of their own, The Athletic reported that Houston had in fact been using a live camera feed to steal opposing catchers’ signs and report them back to their hitters in real time by banging on a trash can behind the dugout.
Although Houston was only found to have used the scheme in 2017 and not against Washington this past October, the Nationals changed up their signs frequently and used plastic cards to create intricate sets of signals that could be alternated from inning to inning or batter to batter.
Recently re-signed first baseman Ryan Zimmerman spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday just a few hours after the team made his new one-year deal official. When asked about his thoughts on the Astros scandal—one that has also stretched to Boston, where the Red Sox are being investigated for an alleged scheme they carried out in 2018—Zimmerman took a definitive stance against people within the game who use technology to steal signs.
“I think first and foremost, the integrity of our game and any professional game is the thing that matters the most,” Zimmerman said. “Rules are put in place to guard the integrity of the game for people to enjoy it and for just the fairness of play. I think any time that is compromised, people should pay the ultimate price.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred dealt significant penalties to the Astros, fining them for the maximum $5 million, stripping them of their first- and second-round picks for the next two years and suspending manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow for one year. Astros owner Jim Crane held a press conference later that day and announced the team would be firing both Hinch and Luhnow outright to give the organization a clean slate to move forward.
However, critics of the ruling have pointed out that none of the players involved were held responsible for their actions. Only Carlos Beltran, who had been hired by the Mets to be their next manager but was let go after the findings were released, was mentioned in the commissioner’s report at all.
“Sign stealing and things like that have been a part of baseball for a long time,” Zimmerman said. “Technology, obviously, makes it easier and there’s always a line about how much you can use it, how much you can’t. I think the players and the field staff and the video people have to use their moral judgement and their respect of the game to know how much is too much.
“If there’s a camera in center field in real time giving people what pitch is coming, that’s obviously crossing the line. I don’t think you would find anyone who would disagree there.”
The Nationals and Astros share a Spring Training facility in Florida. Although the players themselves occupy opposite sides of the complex and won’t see each other too much, national reporters on the Grapefruit League tour will have plenty to write about when they pass through West Palm Beach.
“I don’t think there’s any place for it in the game,” Zimmerman said. “I think mostly that the players would respect the game enough to not partake in that stuff and then moving up from there the managers, the field staff, front office people, would obviously stop it if they saw it.
“There’s reports that it wasn’t handled like that in Houston. I don’t know enough about it to really comment on it but all I can say is obviously I think it’s completely wrong when you start messing with the integrity of the game in any aspect. It’s the greatest sin that you can do.”
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