How Baseball's Code Of Silence Figured Into Astros' Sign-Stealing Case

Feb 26, 2020
Originally published on February 26, 2020 11:01 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Spring training is underway in Major League Baseball. It's a new season, but no one has forgotten that cheating scandal involving the Houston Astros. One small but telling moment occurred this past weekend at Arizona spring training.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics this afternoon is No. 50, Mike Fiers.

(CHEERING)

GREENE: Arizona fans cheering for Oakland's starting pitcher - that might seem odd, but here's an explanation. Fiers, a former Houston Astro, is the whistleblower who last year publicly revealed Houston's 2017 illegal sign stealing scheme. Fiers also has gotten death threats for breaking one of baseball's oldest unwritten rules. NPR's Tom Goldman reports on the game's code of silence.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The Houston Astros opened their spring training clubhouse earlier this month with the expectation there'd be heartfelt apologies for the sign stealing scandal. But mea culpa Thursday fell flat. George Springer, a star on the 2017 team, was asked whether he knew what he and teammates were doing - illegally using technology to steal opposing catchers' signs - was wrong.

GEORGE SPRINGER: You know, it's tough, again. It's one of those situations that we shouldn't have been in.

GOLDMAN: When you say it's tough, is it hard for one person to speak up?

SPRINGER: I think the clubhouse is a sacred place. And, you know, what happens in our clubhouse will stay in our clubhouse.

GOLDMAN: Springer's answer reinforced the long-held major league tradition of a Las Vegas-style code of silence - what happens here stays here. Certainly baseball is not the only sport that embraces the code.

JASON TURBOW: I think the degree to which it is practiced is unique in baseball.

GOLDMAN: Jason Turbow is a journalist and author who wrote "The Baseball Codes." He covered the San Francisco Giants for five years and says a major league clubhouse is particularly insular. One main reason is the sheer length of a regular season. One hundred sixty-two games is nearly double the number in hockey and basketball.

TURBOW: Baseball players really have kind of forged this fraternity, this intrateam community based simply on the fact they spend so much time on the road together, especially. They're all they have. And they don't want outsiders poking into that.

GOLDMAN: When Mike Fiers let outsiders in and revealed the 2017 Astros cheating, there were negative reactions among guardians of the code. Last month, ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza lamented the way Fiers told the story, even though she said later the cheating was important to uncover.

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JESSICA MENDOZA: To go public, yeah, that - it didn't sit well with me. And honestly, it made me sad for the sport that that's how this all got found out.

GOLDMAN: Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz said Fiers' timing made him look like a snitch.

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DAVID ORTIZ: Why you got to talk about it after? Why don't - that's my problem, you know? Why nobody say anything while it was going on?

GOLDMAN: Mike Fiers hasn't said why he didn't speak up in 2017 while the cheating was happening and he and his teammates were benefiting on their way to a World Series title. The answer might have to do with his standing on the Astros at the time. Clubhouse hierarchy matters. There have also been surprising reactions within baseball. Active players around the majors have supported Fiers and voiced their anger about the Astros. Does this symbolize an evolution in baseball's code of silence? Indeed, it could be one of the more interesting questions of the 2020 season. Will what happens in the clubhouse maybe leave the clubhouse more than in the past? Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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