Stealing Signs/Stealing Lives: Baseball, Latinos, and Scandal

A sign-stealing scandal has rocked Major League Baseball (MLB). An investigation confirmed that during the 2017 season the Houston Astros engaged in stealing signs—the communications between their opponent’s catchers and pitchers about pitch selection. This scandal was truly rooted in twenty-first century ways of managing the game—it involves modern technology, computer programming, and analytics. The Astros used television monitors and a computer program to record and then decode their opponents’ signs, which were then communicated to Astros hitters during their at-bats by sound. As a scholar who has studied baseball as a site of labor and racialization, the manner that two Latinos (former Astros coach Alex Cora and player Carlos Beltrán) have been presented as the main perpetrators of the sign-stealing scheme is unsurprising. The press and fans have once more become fixated on Latinos as rule-breakers, manipulators, willing to cheat the system. Weaving together the manner that difference is constructed, managed, and exploited to maximize profit in MLB, “Stealing Signs/Stealing Lives” examines an interrelated story: The use of modern technology and analytics by baseball management to control and discipline labor. Latinos perform a central role within this business model and we can see how stealing signs might be a way of reclaiming stolen lives. 

Adrian Burgos, Jr.
Professor of History at University of Illinois, specializing in US Latinos, Sport History, and Urban History