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#pounditWednesday, August 12, 2020

Report: Astros used codebreaking computer program during games

Jeff Luhnow

New reporting shows that the culture of cheating within the Houston Astros organization started at the top, and it happened long before any trash cans were involved.

New reporting by Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal shows that it was members of the Houston Astros front office who originally devised a sign stealing scheme in late 2016, and former general manager Jeff Luhnow was almost certainly aware of it.

Larry Brown Sports was also told by sources about this codebreaking computer program.

On Sept. 22, 2016, an Astros intern presented a PowerPoint to Luhnow outlining a new program called “Codebreaker,” an Excel-based application that was used to decode opposing catchers’ signs. The program was used by someone watching a game on video who noted what sign the catcher put down, followed by the pitch that was thrown. This allowed the user to determine which pitch corresponded to which sign, and that information could be relayed to an intermediary, then to an Astros baserunner, who passed it on to a hitter.

This system was used during the 2017 season and part of 2018, and was used in both home and away games. The player-driven trash can scheme came into use in June 2017 on top of the use of Codebreaker.

Luhnow, who has denied any knowledge of sign-stealing schemes, was told of the program in its infancy and asked questions about it. Tom Koch-Weser, the team’s director of advance information, sent multiple emails to Luhnow referencing “the system” and what Koch-Weser referred to as the “our dark arts, sign-stealing department.” Luhnow claimed that he did not read to the bottom of the emails because they were too long, and thus did not see those references. Luhnow admitted to remembering the PowerPoint, but claimed that he thought it would be used legally to allow runners to share the signs in future games as opposed to doing it instantaneously during live game action.

Other Astros employees who spoke to MLB believed that Luhnow had to know about the Codebreaker operation. It was not hidden when Luhnow visited the video room, and the term “dark arts” was even included in the scouting department’s 2019 budget spreadsheet. There was also evidence that Koch-Weser used the “dark arts” terminology to try to convince Luhnow to extend his contract. Luhnow denied this, and stated that he did not view the portion of the budget that contained the terminology and would have said something if he had.

There is significant evidence that Luhnow knew about this operation, or at least should have. Even if you believe his denials, the most charitable interpretation is that he wasn’t even close to thorough in reviewing emails or other pertinent data, so he looks bad either way. His denials do not hold any weight and clearly should not be believed.

One of the most interesting reveals is that the Astros were using this system on the road, and into 2018 as well. It certainly supports Yu Darvish’s theory that something was amiss during Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, and may well taint that Astros championship even more.

The Houston Astros are confirmed cheaters and deserve an asterisk. Send that message by wearing our Houston Asterisks T-shirt! You can buy it here:

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