First, though, let’s note countervailing facts. Stealing signs is an ancient art. A New York Giant named Bobby Thomson hit a famous home run to give the Giants a win over the Brooklyn Dodgers in the third game of a three-game playoff in 1951, a shot that broke hearts and lifted spirits and that lives on in music and literature.
As The Wall Street Journal reported five decades later, it turned out that Giants Manager Leo Durocher, who is known for the famous sports quotation “Nice guys finish last,” had installed a coach far in the manager’s office in center field and handed him binoculars. When he had decoded the pitching signs, he put his thumb on a buzzer that sounded in the Giants’ bullpen, and players there signaled the hitter. Perhaps Thomson’s homer was a pickpocket’s reward.
Just last summer, the Mets’ manager, Mickey Callaway, and his bench coach, Jim Riggleman, leveled an accusation at the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost the 2017 World Series to the Astros. “I think they have a system that helps them get signals and stuff,” Riggleman told reporters in May. There was no proof, but then again there rarely is.
Let’s move beyond mere pilferage. Tony La Russa presided as manager over the birth of the sluggo steroids era in Oakland and then served as manager at its apogee in St. Louis, when Mark McGwire made like Popeye and swatted home runs toward the Mississippi.
Through it all, La Russa waved off any suggestion that his sluggers were doping, and he was later admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
A scandal that leads players to inject illegal steroids to compete with absurdly muscled competitors is worse than banging like a banshee on a garbage can in hopes you can communicate to a hitter that a 93 miles-per-hour slider will arrive in the next 1.1 seconds. Professional athletes are stunning creatures, though, and so I would not rule out that such information might confer an edge.
A quick scan of statistics offers no damning revelation.
In 2017, the Astros hit .279 at home with 115 home runs and a .472 slugging average. On the road, where a pitch-stealing scam was more difficult to pull off, the Astros hit .284 with 123 home runs and a .483 slugging average. That was not a one-off. In 2018, the Astros hit .248 at home with 92 home runs; on the road, the Astros hit .262 with 113 home runs.