Astros begin to respond to sign-stealing lawsuits

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Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic got a hold of the Astros’ first legal response in one of the several lawsuits filed against them arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. You’ll recall that the Astros, Red Sox and Major League Baseball have been sued by daily fantasy players and the Astros have been sued by Houston season ticket holders and former MLB pitcher Mike Bolsinger.

The first answer up is in the case that seems the least meritorious to me: the one brought by the daily fantasy players who are claiming, basically, that they were gambling on contests that were, unbeknownst to them, rigged.

Kaplan notes that the answer is basically two-pronged:

  1. Cheating is a part of sports and no fan or gambler has a legal claim against teams or players who break the rules; and
  2. Even if they did, the Astros’ road offensive performance — better their home offensive performance in 2017 — negates any claim that the cheating substantially impacted anything.

I’m very much on board with the first argument. There is considerable case law which holds that sports fans and gamblers have extraordinarily limited legal interests with respect to sporting events. If you buy a ticket you are entitled to a game. Not a good game. Not even a complete game in the event of rain and stuff. You certainly don’t have a cognizable legal right to a game played without rules violations. In light of that I am pretty sure that the fans and the gamblers are going to be out of luck, legally speaking, by the time this is said and done.

I find the second argument much more interesting, though it may never quite get to the interesting part.

It may be a long shot for these lawsuits — or the lawsuit filed by Mike Bolsinger to which, presumably, the first defense won’t apply since he was a participant in the games — to get past a motion to dismiss. But if it does, and if it gets into discovery, that second defense certainly invites litigants to examine the Astros’ cheating practices in depth and inquire about cheating on the road as well as at Minute Maid Park.

It’s interesting because the non-legal defense we’ve heard a lot of, mostly from fans, is “hey, the sign-stealing obviously didn’t help that much given the home/road splits.” That may be a convincing answer on a superficial level, but it doesn’t really track intuitively that the Astros would employ an allegedly ineffective scheme for the entire 2017 season and, depending on who you believe, beyond even that. If they didn’t think it worked, they would’ve quit doing it in June.

It also doesn’t jibe with the suggestions out there that, actually, the Astros used some form of electronic sign-stealing on the road too. That’s not been officially established, but it’s been mentioned as an aside by unnamed sources in stories in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. There is, at the very least, some chatter about it and if a suit with that defense manages to advance, people will be put under oath about it, which could be loads of fun.

Ultimately I don’t see any of these suits being successful and they may not even get past early motions to dismiss.  But they could at least be interesting on their way to dismissal.