2020 May Not be a Strikeout for the Astros After All

By: Elizabeth Farley

In November 2019, a former member of the Houston Astros baseball team alleged that the team used technology to engage in sign-stealing techniques during the 2017 season.[1] In baseball, sign-stealing is when one team, through “legal” or “illegal” means, communicates to the batter which pitch the pitcher intends to throw next. Astros employees in the video replay review room used the live game feed in center field to see which sign the catcher signaled to the pitcher to throw.[2] The employees would relay this information to the dugout and players in the dugout would bang on trash cans to alert the batter about what pitch they believed was next.[3] According to Major League Baseball (“MLB”) rules[4], sign stealing is permissible when players, coaches, and managers steal the signs either on the field or in the dugout through personal observations.[5] However, sign stealing through the use of technology is prohibited.[6]

In 2020, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspended AJ Hinch and Jeff Lunhow through the end of the 2020 World Series. Hinch was the former Astros manager and Lunhow was the former Astros general manager.[7]  The Astros team was fined and stripped of their first and second round 2020 and 2021 draft picks.[8] After the MLB suspended Hinch and Lunhow, Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, fired both men.[9]

Although Lunhow and Hinch’s suspension from the MLB is unappealable, they may be able to sue the MLB for defamation.[10] Other lawsuits are also pending and expected.[11] Former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger filed a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court in February 2020.[12] Bolsinger’s lawsuit alleges the Astros engaged in unfair business practices, intentional interference with contractual and economic relations, and negligence.[13] Furthermore, Adam Wallach, a season ticket holder of the Astros, filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of 2017-2020 full or partial season ticket holders.[14] The basis of the class action suit stems from season ticket holders deceptively being overcharged for the price of their ticket.[15] The suit alleges that if the Astros has not used these deceptive practices, the team would not have been as successful, and therefore there may have been less of a demand for tickets.[16]

Since the sign-stealing scandal, advertisements on social media offering to reimburse customers for Astros tickets purchased during the sign-stealing seasons have begun to appear.[17] One of the ways that fans could potentially be reimbursed is by participating in a class action suit.[18] The law firm Hilliard Martinez Gonzalez is offering to represent Astros season ticket holders. The firm’s goal is to get these fans reimbursed for tickets purchased and for travel arrangements that fans had to make.[19] However, despite the bad publicity, the MLB, and the Astros in particular, are expected to have higher TV ratings and ticket sales.[20] According to experts, the Astros “may be the team that baseball fans love to hate this year” and the vestiges of the scandal could potentially boost both TV viewership and in-person ticket sales.[21]


[1] Statement of Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr., (Jan. 13, 2020), https://img.mlbstatic.com/mlb-images/image/upload/mlb/cglrhmlrwwbkacty27l7.pdf (noting that the Astros were the World Series Champions in 2017 and the runner ups in the 2019 season).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Major League Baseball Rules, http://m.mlb.com/glossary/rules (last visited Mar. 23, 2020).

[5] Alex Speier, Breaking down how the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme worked, and the investigation into the Red Sox, Boston Globe (Jan. 14, 2020),  https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/redsox/2020/01/14/breaking-down-astros-sign-stealing-scheme-and-investigation-surrounding-red-sox/WNEZPO0RCdr9tse6TG7KKO/story.html.

[6] Id.

[7] Tom Verducci, Why MLB Issued Historic Punishment to Astros for Sign Stealing, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 13, 2020), https://www.si.com/mlb/2020/01/13/houston-astros-cheating-punishment.

[8] Id.

[9] Michael McCann, Could Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch Sue MLB or Astros?, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 14, 2020), https://www.si.com/mlb/2020/01/14/astros-cheating-scandal-lawsuits.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Nancy Armour, Pitcher Mike Bolsinger says Cheating Houston Astros changed course of his career, USA Today (Feb. 10, 2020), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/nancy-armour/2020/02/10/mike-bolsinger-sues-houston-astros-says-cheating-changed-his-career/4712164002/; see generally Bolsinger v. Houston Astros, LLC., No. 20STCV05242 (Sup. Ct. Cal. filed Feb. 10, 2020).

[13] Armour, supra note 12.

[14] Ron Trevino & Jaime E. Galvan, Season-ticket holder files class-action lawsuit against Astros, KHOU 11 (Feb. 17, 2020), https://www.khou.com/article/sports/mlb/astros/season-ticket-holder-files-class-action-lawsuit-against-astros/285-c0aac067-b287-4f92-bea5-440e3fa2b323; see also Bolsinger v. Houston Astros, LLC., No. 20STCV05242, at *2 (Sup. Ct. Cal. filed Feb. 10, 2020).

[15] Id. “[D]eceptively overcharging

[ticket holders]

for season tickets while defendants and their employees and representatives knowingly and surreptitiously engaged in a sign-stealing scheme in violation of Major League Baseball Rules and Regulations, and secretly put a deficient product on the field that could result (and now has resulted) in severe penalties instituted by MLB[.]”

[16] Id.

[17] Amy Davis, Can Astros fans get reimbursed for tickets because of cheating scandal?, Click2Houston.com (Feb. 12, 2020), https://www.click2houston.com/sports/2020/02/12/can-astros-fans-get-reimbursed-for-tickets-because-of-cheating-scandal/.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Frank Pingue, Astros cheating scandal may be good news for MLB, experts say, Reuters (Feb. 19, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-baseball-mlb-hou/astros-cheating-scandal-may-be-good-news-for-mlb-experts-say-idUSKBN20D2IQ.

[21] Id.

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