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Sources: MLB's Sign-Stealing Investigation of Astros Expands to 2018 Season

Investigators are reviewing tens of thousands of emails and telephone records of Astros personnel as the probe's focus widens to an "institutional control" issue.
Dec 10, 2019; San Diego, CA, USA; Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch speaks to the media during the MLB Winter Meetings at Manchester Grand Hyatt. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sport

SAN DIEGO — The Major League Baseball investigation into the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal has expanded to include the 2018 season, while investigators comb through more than 70,000 e-mail correspondences and telephone records of Astros club personnel in addition to more than 70 interviews conducted in person.

Midway through the 2018 season, an American League manager telephoned the office of the commissioner in New York with his suspicion that the Astros were illegally stealing signs at Minute Maid Ballpark in Houston, according to a source with that opposing team. The source said the manager had the same suspicion in 2017 but made the complaint in 2018 because “he felt he finally had enough of it.”

It was not clear what MLB immediately did with that complaint, but after the 2018 season MLB issued stringent protocols to limit and monitor the use of cameras and other technology during games.

A source close to the investigation confirmed that MLB is “pulling on threads from 2018” in the Houston probe, and though no evidence of violations like those from 2017 have been found, the work is ongoing. “If there is anything there, it will be found,” the source said.

At least one person interviewed said he was asked to turn over his phone to investigators. Baseball requested and received all company e-mails from club front office and support personnel. The sheer volume of material has slowed the pace of the investigation. MLB intends to finish the investigation before the start of spring training, possibly next month, according to a baseball source.

The scope of the investigation suggests the focus has widened from an on-field, uniformed issue to one more akin to what the NCAA calls “institutional control.”

The investigation began after former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic last month the Astros stole signs in 2017 with a camera installed in centerfield. An employee read the catcher’s signs on a monitor behind the dugout and banged on a plastic trash can to alert the Houston hitter when an off-speed was thrown. The lack of noise indicated a fastball. Based on Fiers’ account, video evidence and sources familiar with the investigation, the Astros deployed the illegal system for about three months in the 2017 regular season.

One of those sources said there is no evidence yet the trash can system was used in the postseason or in 2018. The “threads” being investigated from 2018 involve more nuanced methods, such as the possible use of video rooms to decode the sequence of signs used by opposing catchers. Armed with that information, for instance, a runner at second base could then relay the signs to the batter. Teams since then have adopted more sophisticated sets of signs, even with no runners on base, to guard against such subterfuge.