Integrity Matters: Learning from the Houston Astros’ Scandal
by Shannon Wagers
As an avid baseball fan, there are few phrases that excite me more than “World Series, Game Seven.” In the fall of 2017, I sat glued to my big-screen television to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers oppose the Houston Astros. This series was filled with drama; however, I had no idea of the drama that would unfold just a few years later.
The Victor’s Spoils
This series was a classic back-and-forth struggle. One final game would decide the champion. As Game Seven started, All-star pitcher Yu Darvish took the mound, but things had not boded well for Darvish in this series. Darvish was uncharacteristic in Game Three. He left that game after only pitching 12⁄3 innings, which was the shortest outing of his career. In Game Seven, he would fair no better with another 12⁄3 innings performance—becoming the third pitcher with two starts of less than two innings in a World Series. The Astros cruised to victory, winning the game and the series. Darvish’s performance was puzzling, with more to the story yet to be told, but accolades for Houston came first.
- For the first time ever, instead of taking place in the winning team’s clubhouse, the championship trophy presentation occurred on the losing team’s field.
- Houston shortstop Carlos Correa proposed to his girlfriend during a postgame interview. She accepted and they were married in 2019.
- The media proclaimed Houston’s first World Series victory as a needed boost for the city of Houston. Just two months earlier the city had been pummeled by Hurricane Harvey.
- A celebratory parade was held in city of Houston. An estimated 1 million people attended.
- Houston bench coach Alex Cora landed a coveted role as the new manager of the Boston Red Sox. This team would go on to win the World Series the next year.
The Story Unfolds
But as time passed, things started to unravel. Speculation turned to admission that Houston had discovered Darvish had been “tipping” his pitches—unintentionally revealing to the batter what pitch was coming next. This is not cheating. If a pitcher makes a mistake and inadvertently tells a hitter what pitch is coming, the other team has every right to exploit that mistake. However, this time was different, as the Astros began to get cast in a different light. Fans conjectured about the Astros. Since they were able to gain this competitive advantage, could there be even more that they were up to?
Then the “Sign-Stealing Scandal” came forth. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers revealed to the media that the 2017 World Series Champion Astros team used cameras in centerfield to steal signs from opposing teams. Sign stealing is not inherently illegal in baseball. Legal sign stealing dates back to the earliest days of baseball. It occurs when a runner on second base observes the catcher’s signs and relays a signal to the batter through a gesture. With technological improvement in this current age, concerns of illegal sign stealing involving mechanical or electronic technology have risen exponentially. Official MLB investigations have confirmed the allegations. Baseball fans reviewed game footage and shared videos on social media showing the Astros “caught in the act.” Stolen signs were communicated to the dugout. A trash can was beaten with a particular rhythm to communicate to the batter what the opposing pitcher would be throwing next.
Truth and Consequences
MLB revealed the outcome of its investigation on January 13, 2020, and the historic penalties the Astros would face. These included:
- A $5 million dollar fine.
- Loss of top round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.
- Suspensions of General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch for one year.
Astros’ ownership subsequently fired Luhnow and Hinch the same day it received these penalties. Carlos Beltrán, who played for the Astros in 2017, and had been recently hired as New York Mets manager, lost his job before he ever coached one game for them. Alex Cora was also implicated in the Astros scandal. Allegations arose concerning the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox in yet another sign-stealing scandal. Cora and the Boston Red Sox have mutually agreed to part ways and Cora awaits further penalty from MLB.
As Christians how should we react to this scandal? Some may say, “It’s just a game.” Others may already look at MLB apathetically with the past performance-enhancing drug scandals or perhaps are still reeling from the players strike in the early ’90s. I believe there are lessons to be learned in how we demonstrate our personal character every day.
Proverbs 10:9 says, “People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed” (NLT). It was only a matter of time before those who broke the rules got caught. God calls his people to the higher standard of integrity in our daily lives. The word integrity comes from same Latin root for “integer.” You may remember from grade school math that an integer is a whole number, not a fraction. God is calling us to live as our “whole self” in his truth. We shouldn’t live compartmentally, having a “work self,” an “at home self,” or “church self”—but only our real “whole self.” What exactly does being our “whole self” mean? In short, it’s everyday integrity.
- It means we keep our promises and commitments.
“A person who promises a gift but doesn’t give it is like clouds and wind that bring no rain” (Proverbs 25:14, NLT).
- It means we do our best at work.
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Colossians 3:23, NLT).
- It means we are real with others.
“We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this” (2 Corinthians 4:2, NLT).
- It means God is happy with us.
“The Lord detests people with crooked hearts, but he delights in those with integrity” (Proverbs 11:20, NLT).
It means we will be blessed.
“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT).
The players and coaches of the Houston Astros who cheated may have gained a short-term profit but in the end were found out and suffered a long-term loss. Our motivation as Christians should be to live with everyday integrity every day.
Shannon Wagers is a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan. Just like longtime Reds player and broadcaster Joe Nuxhall, Shannon is left-handed and originally from Hamilton, Ohio.