In part two of our Sports in America: Baseball free English class series, we will look at one of the biggest scandals to rock professional baseball in decades: sign stealing in the Major League Baseball (MLB)!
Approximately 15 minutes
Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.
Despite its status as “America’s national pastime,” baseball has seen a number of major scandals over the years. From steroids to players betting on games, Major League Baseball is no stranger to controversy. Most recently, the Houston Astros were the center of a scandal that put their 2017 World Series into question. To understand how this controversy unfolded, let’s first examine how hand signals work in baseball.
Baseball Hand Signals
Though baseball does not require much talking, players are constantly communicating with each other via hand signals. The primary signals come from the catcher. The catcher uses his fingers to show different numbers to the pitcher. This allows the pitcher and catcher to agree on where and how the pitcher will throw the ball.
For example, depending on the series of numbers the catcher shows, the pitcher could throw an inside (close to the batter) curveball or an outside (farther away from the batter) sinker. These signals also let the pitcher and catcher decide if they should intentionally throw a ball.
In addition to the catcher, many of the other players and even the coaches use hand signals to communicate with one another!
For example, the shortstop and second baseman keep a close eye on the catcher’s signal to see who should cover second base. Once they know, they signal to one another. Additionally, the third-base coach has a lot of signals that they use to tell different players whether they should try to steal a base, prepare for a pickoff, or simply stay in their current position.
As you can see, hand signals are extremely important in baseball. They are useful because they allow a team to stay in constant communication without divulging their strategy to the opposing team. That’s why the Houston Astros scandal was so shocking to baseball fans.
The Houston Astros Controversy
In 2019, journalists reported that the Houston Astros had been using cameras placed in centerfield to record signals made by the opposing catcher. Players or coaches for the Astros would then signal to the batter, letting him know what kind of pitch was about to be thrown.
This gave the team a HUGE advantage, allowing them to win the 2017 World Series, the American League Division Series in 2018, and reach (but ultimately lose) the World Series in 2019. While trying to decode the opposing team’s signals is not against the rules set by the MLB, using technology to do so is a clear violation.
The MLB opened an investigation into these allegations in 2020. In the end, the MLB concluded that the Houston Astros did use cameras to cheat during the 2017 season and part of the 2018 season, though they found no evidence of similar activity in 2019.
As a result, the MLB fined the team and suspended the general manager, Jeff Luhnow, and field manager, A. J. Hinch. Soon after, both managers were fired by the owner of the Houston Astros, Jim Crane. Thanks to their cooperation during the investigation, the players for the Houston Astros avoided any punishment.
Watch this news clip to get a better understanding of how the Astros used sign-stealing and why it violates the MLB rules.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:
Grammar Center: Past Perfect Continuous Tense
Let’s take a closer look at the following sentence from the passage:
In 2019, journalists reported that the Houston Astros had been using cameras placed in centerfield to record signals made by the opposing catcher.
This sentence includes an example of the past perfect continuous tense. The past perfect continuous refers to actions or events that took place over a period of time in the past and finished at some point in the past.
Another way to think of the past perfect continuous is to think about an action that progressed in the past and finished before something else.
In order to form the past perfect continuous tense, you will need to use the following formula:
Had + been (past participle of “to be”) + present participle
Here are a few more examples of the past perfect tense:
As you can see, the past perfect continuous tense is extremely useful for discussing continual actions that occurred in the past. Now that you know how it works, you can use the past perfect continuous tense when speaking and writing in English!
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