By Matt Digney

“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

[1] Although this common phrase by Eddie Guerreo is rarely used in a serious manner in the sports context, it has recently become all too relevant to the dismay of Major League Baseball.

On November 1, 2017, the Houston Astros reached the pinnacle of professional baseball by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series, bringing home the title for the first time.[2] This monumental win for the program, however, has come under fire as of late due to allegations and accusations of using unfair and deceptive practices to gain a competitive advantage in the 2017 postseason.[3]

Earlier this month, Rob Manfred, commissioner of Major League Baseball and investigators for the league found the Houston Astros “guilty of orchestrating a cheating scheme.”[4] This statement followed “the most thorough” investigation ever undertaken by Major League Baseball, in Manfred’s words.[5] The investigation included almost 70 witness interviews and a review of more than 60,000 emails.[6] In a nine page report, Manfred described the cheating scheme as “player-driven” and involved multiple members of the Astro’s roster along with members of the coaching staff.[7]

The allegations arose out of conduct that took place at the Astro’s home ballpark, Minute Maid Park, in which the Astros were accused of using a camera position in centerfield to record opposing teams’ catchers signals to their pitcher.[8] This footage was analyzed during the game in real time, while Astros teammates in the dugout, with the assistance of TV monitors would bang loudly on the trashcans in the dugout to notify their batter of the type of pitch he was about to face.[9]

Punishment was handed out quickly to the team shortly after the findings by the Major League Commissioner.[10] The MLB gave one-year suspensions to Astros Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow.[11] Both Hinch and Luhnow were immediately fired from the Astros organization following the suspensions.[12] In addition to the suspensions, MLB has forced the Astros to forfeit their first and second round draft pics for the next two years, and has fined the team $5 million.[13]

Although sign-stealing has been around the league for some time, it usually comes in the form of observing the catcher or pitching coaches with the human eye, unaided by any technology.[14] While that practice is controversial by nature, it is not deemed per se cheating by the MLB.[15]  However, the use of electronic equipment to: record a catchers signal; have the signals reviewed by analysists in a team’s replay room in real time; have the deciphered signals communicated to the players in the dugout; and have the players in the dugout use a method of banging on trashcans to notify the batter of the pitch they are about to face based off of the decoded signal is viewed as cheating and is deemed to undermine the integrity of the sport.[16]

With the penalties levied against the Astros in place, the question remains as to whether the Astros should be able to keep the title of 2017 World Series Champion. Naturally, the threshold question to ask is whether the Major League Baseball commissioner even possesses the authority to invalidate the World Series win, and presumably award it to the Dodgers retroactively. In short, yes, he does.[17]

The authority to do so is found the Major League Baseball Constitution, which states that the Commissioner has the authority to “determine, after investigation, what . . . action is appropriate . . . and to take such action . . . as the case may be” for any action “deemed by the Commissioner to not in the best interest of baseball.” [18]

The MLB Constitution affords the Commission an enormous amount of discretion when it comes to deciding punishable offenses and determining what punishments or remedial actions should be taken.[19] Furthermore, the Constitution does not set up a formal appeals process for any decisions made by the Commissioner, as he has “the sole and exclusive right to decide such disputes and controversies and [has] discretion [that is] final and unappealable.”[20] In other words, if he decided to strip the Astros of their title in award it to the Dodgers, that decision would be final.

The MLB Constitution also explicitly states that clubs and executives agree to be bound by the constitution and accept “decisions or interpretations taken or reached pursuant to the provisions of this constitution and severally waive such right of recourse to the courts that would have otherwise existed in their favor.”[21]

Although the MLB Constitution gives Rob Manfred the power and discretion to strip the Houston Astros of their World Series title, it seems unlikely that he will, given the fines and suspensions already enforced along with the possible implications of invalidating the World Series Title.[22] If Manfred were to vacate the records and strip the Astros of their title, it would be the an unprecedented disciplinary action in the League’s 150 year history.[23] Adding this precedent has the potential to lead to a metaphorical opening of the floodgate in terms of changing the record books, given the leagues history of controversy from accusations of teams throwing games on purpose in the 1920’s all the way to performance enhancing drug scandals of the 2000’s.[24] Not to mention the issues of recalculating player statistics who played in those games and performance bonuses paid out as a result of the wins.

In all likelihood, Rob Manfred and the MLB will not vacate the records and strip the Houston Astros of their 2017 World Series title. With this realization becoming more and more likely every day, some MLB players have voiced their opinion on the matter. In the words of Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, “[A World Series title] is something that you really have to earn, and with the commissioner’s report and the evidence and what they had, it’s hard to feel like they earned . . . the right to be called champions.”[25] Whether it may be a “slap on the wrist” or and asterisk in the record book, the 2017 Houston Astros World Series title will go down as one surrounded with controversy and dispute.

[1] Quote by late professional wrestler Eddie Guerreo

[2] Michael McCann, 20 Big Questions about MLB’s Sign-Stealing Scandal, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 20, 2020),

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Chandler Rome, Rob Manfred: MLB has no plans to strip Astros of World Series Title, Houston Chronicle (Jan. 22, 2020, 2:03 PM),

[6] See McCann, supra note 2.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] See Joe Drape, When Titles Are Tarnished by Cheating but Not Taken Away, N.Y. Times (Jan. 16, 2020),

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Michael McCann, Could Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch Sue MLB or Astros?, Sports Illustrated (Jan. 14, 2020),

[15] Joel Reuter, Memorable Sign-Stealing Moments in Major League Baseball History, Bleacher Report (April 13, 2012),

[16] See McCann, supra note 14.

[17] See Major League Const.

[18] See id. art. II, § 2(g).

[19] See id. art. II.

[20] See McCann, supra note 14.

[21] See Major League Const.  art. VI, § 2.

[22] See McCann, supra note 14.

[23] See McCann, supra note 2.

[24] Id.

[25] Jenna West, Justin Turner on Astros’ 2017 World Series Title: ‘It’s Hard to Feel They Earned It,’ Sports Illustrated, (Jan. 25, 2020),