For as long as I can remember, the New York Yankees were the team that everybody loved to hate. George Steinbrenner, their abrasive owner, was the face of the Evil Empire, with a track record that would have the 2020 Cancel Culture crowd up in arms if he were still alive today. Sure, the Yankees may be best remembered for spending the most money to acquire the best players, which resulted in 7 World Series titles during his time as owner, but the Yankees became hated far before they became winners, in no short part due to the actions of Steinbrenner.
In 1985, Steinbrenner publicly derided the performance of Dave Winfield, a player he signed to a 10-year, $23,000,000 contract prior to the 1981 season. For his part, all Winfield did was finish no lower than 12th in the MVP voting in any season as a Yankee between 81 and 85, and was named to the All-Star team every season through 1988. Steinbrenner even went so far as to pay $40,000 trying to dig up dirt on Winfield.
There were, of course, other incidents over the years that helped reaffirm his position as an unlikable figure in the baseball community. Ken Griffey Jr famously said he would never play in New York due to the indelible mark of prejudice he experienced while his father played for the team. Who could forget when the outspoken owner referred to Hideki Irabu as a “fat pussy toad”?
It took just under 30 years for Steinbrenner’s Yankees to grow into the Evil Empire, and for the Astros to assume their throne as the most vilified team in sports, all it took was a whistle blower and Twitter.
The story is now as well known as any in baseball history, but let’s go ahead and set the scene for those who have perhaps been distracted with concerns about social distancing, murder hornets, and tiger farms run by polygamous, murderous rednecks.
In November of 2019, the 2017 Houston Astros were outed for having utilized a not-so-elaborate system of using a video feed to steal signs from opposing teams, and then communicate upcoming pitches by banging on a trash can. The article was published by The Athletic after a former Astros player, Mike Fiers, detailed the system in an interview that became the baseball equivalent of a whistle blower transcript. The system was validated by 3 other club sources, with varying degrees of agreement on usage and effectiveness during the playoffs.
From there, Twitter went to work. It was mere hours before videos popped up featuring the obvious sound of loud banging just ahead of breaking balls being thrown during the 2017 regular season. The Astros had definitely been stealing signs in 2017. There was corroborated internal testimony combined with video evidence. All that was left was the punishment, which would happen after the league conducted a slightly more formal investigation than watching videos from Jomboy.
While sports fans everywhere waited with anticipation of an Astros punishment, something strange was stirring within the world of sports media. There was this simultaneous acknowledgement that the story of electronic sign-stealing was not limited to the Astros organization, juxtaposed against Mike Fiers, a player who was being lauded as a hero for coming out and bravely telling the truth. While there had been numerous reports about teams utilizing video feeds to pick signs over the past few seasons, none of them even hinted at the idea of relaying