fb-pixel Skip to main content

In 2014, Ben Reiter wrote a cover story for Sports Illustrated predicting that the Houston Astros would win the 2017 World Series. Three years later, he was right: The Astros, whose bench coach then was Red Sox manager Alex Cora, beat the LA Dodgers to win the franchise’s first-ever World Series.

But in 2019, Reiter and the rest of us learned the Astros’ success was only partially due to the team’s innovative approach to evaluating players and use of analytics. They also cheated. Using a video camera set up in centerfield at Minute Maid Park, the Astros stole opposing catchers’ signals and relayed them to hitters so they’d know what pitch was coming.


Much has been written about the cheating scandal — it’s among the most egregious in MLB history — but the best account of the Astros’ illicit scheme may be “The Edge,” a six-episode podcast reported and written by Reiter. Released just before the Red Sox rehired Cora last year, “The Edge” makes clear that the Sox skipper, who was suspended for a year by MLB, was a principal player in the deception.

With the Red Sox and Astros set to square off Friday in the first game of the American League Championship Series, we talked to Reiter, also the best-selling author of 2018′s “Astroball,” about the Astros scandal and Cora’s role in it.

Q. How did you predict — in 2014 — that the Astros would win the World Series in 2017?

A. I was able to embed with the front office for a number of days in June 2014. The system they described and the strategies they were implementing were intriguing to me. I thought they were logical, I thought they were new, and I thought they were something that could work. So I wrote a story explaining what they were doing — how they were leveraging analytics in new ways and combining them with human observations to get the best out of both man and machine.


Q. When the cheating was finally exposed, did some people think you knew?

A. Yes, people thought that since I’d spent a good amount of time covering the organization, I must have known. I wish I knew. This was a secret conspiracy, hidden not just from people on the field playing, and from the public, but also from certain members of the organization.

Q. Remind me how the cheating was ultimately revealed?

A. The Athletic published a report in November 2019, based on an interview with former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, who revealed that when he was with the Astros in 2017, they banged on a trash can to alert hitters what pitch was coming in. That’s when everything blew up.

Q. And what was Fiers’s motivation for talking?

A. He thought it was unfair to opposing pitchers, and he thought it should be revealed. You can’t overstate how unusual that is in the world of sports. Clubhouse omerta usually reigns, and if you break it, you immediately make yourself an outcast. So it was so unusual that Mike Fiers would come forward. It’s also worth noting that he’d been unceremoniously cut from the team after 2017, so I’m sure he didn’t have great feelings for the Astros.

Q. You did a lot of reporting for the podcast, but some people wouldn’t talk to you, correct?


A. Correct.

Q. Did you try to talk to Alex Cora?

A. Yes. I didn’t get a response. I reached out to many members of that team and I was often met with silence. It had been made very clear to players and coaches that you better not talk about this.

Q. What do we know about Alex Cora’s role in the cheating? He wasn’t a peripheral character.

A. No. He was central to it. He wasn’t the manager of the team, but he was highly influential in the clubhouse — the players loved him, as they still do. And he had a strong bond with Carlos Beltran, who was the player-leader in the clubhouse. Together, their influence went an awfully long way, both culturally and directly, in perpetuating the scheme.

Q. But we don’t know, absolutely, who devised the scheme?

A. Absolutely? No, but we know Cora and Beltran had a central role in devising and executing it. ... MLB’s report pinpointed Cora as the one who arranged for the video screen to be installed in the tunnel. The screen that the players watched and then banged on the trash can, Cora was the one who orchestrated the installation of it.

Q. In 2018, Cora leaves the Astros and comes to Boston and — voila! — the Red Sox win the World Series. Do you have any reason to believe that cheating played a role in the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2018?


A. No. Look, someone described it to me like this: You have the speed limit, and a lot of teams are exceeding the speed limit. They’re using replay rooms to crack signs and send the signs into their base runners, so if there’s a guy on second base who can see into their catcher, he can tip the batter off. But the Astros were going 100miles per hour by using the trash can to directly alert the batter to what was coming. Nobody believes the Red Sox were doing anything as egregious as what the Astros were doing in 2017.

Q. The Astros have been playing with a chip on their shoulder ever since. The scandal follows them around. What about Cora? Will it follow him around?

A. Yes, I think it will follow them forever. This will always be a footnote in their stories. But, like it or not, in sports winning is the best Band-Aid. If someone does something great on the field, it goes some way toward erasing their past transgression. I think we’re seeing that right now. With both Cora and the Astros, I’m hearing a whole lot less about what they did in 2017 than I am about how well they’re playing in the field.

Q. Who are you picking to win this series?

A. Based on what we saw the Astros do (against the White Sox), they have to be the pick. But it’ll be tough. The Red Sox are better than you think.


Interview was edited and condensed.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.