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Friday open thread: What is cheating, anyway?

2019 World Series Game 2 - Washington Nationals v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Happy Friday!

Today’s thread is inspired by the antics of the Houston Astros. If you’re not a follower of baseball, the Astros, this year’s World Series loser, have been credibly accused of stealing the signs that the catcher gives to the pitcher about what pitch to throw, and of wordlessly signaling the batter what pitch is coming.

This is what that looked and sounded like as it was happening:

That’s...not great. But the background on that is also the genesis of my question. Stealing signs in baseball is as old as, well, as old as using signs in baseball, and the Astros certainly aren’t the first team to be accused of stealing signs (not even the first time this year! see: Red Sox, Boston). Where this one differs, though, is in how...systematized and methodical the Astros went about it, and how ingrained it was into their gameday. They not just crossed a line, they scuffed the line with their feet, repainted it two feet away, and then turned around and puked on the old one, just for good measure.

Whether or not I should, I sort of consider sign stealing an accepted part of the game. It’s technically cheating, but it’s not against any rule of the game - unless it’s done electronically. In the Astros’ case, it was done with cameras and broadcast technology, and it was done with the involvement not just of playing staff, but of operations and stadium staff, which is a much broader, more coordinated approach than the runner on second base looking at the catcher and trying to figure out what the next pitch is going to be.

It’s not quite the same, as the advantage it gains is miniscule to nonexistent, but think about it in soccer terms. For instance, when a player has a throw-in, the ref points to the spot where the throw-in is to take place, and the player promptly moves several yards to the left or right before taking the throw (or moves the ball forward a yard prior to a free kick when the ref isn’t looking). Is that doing it by the rules? No it is not. But is it an accepted part of the game? Yep. So stuff like that, to be pedantic, is cheating, but it also doesn’t really matter because no real advantage is gained, so I’m fine letting it stand.

The Astros, however, gained a huge advantage by systematically stealing signs - vastly moreso than if they were just trying to steal signs the old fashioned way, which works for about an inning.

So, the question is, where do you draw your own personal line with cheating in sports? I don’t think the “old way” of sign stealing is cheating - or, more accurately, I do think, technically, that it’s cheating, but I’m also OK with it happening, because it’s been an accepted part of the game for close to a century now. But the Astros crossed a line, which is why I want to know where yours is. What does it take for you to consider something a player does to gain an advantage “cheating”, to the level that it requires official punishment? What’s just normal gamesmanship?