Book Review: Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing

by Fred Hofstetter on June 27, 2021

Martino's Cheated tells all from key figures in the Astros sign stealing scandal - but something tells me there's still story missing regarding the culture of sign stealing in baseball.

Cheated Andy Martino Best Baseball Book 2021

Take a closer look at a few of the key figures behind the Astros’ sign stealing scandal.

Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing

by Andy Martino

Cheated: The Inside Story of the Astros Scandal and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing

The definitive story of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scheme that shook the baseball world.

Buy on Amazon

An exploration of a cheating scandal teasing a bigger untold story.

Cheating in baseball is one of those unsaid things I don’t bother to think about. I just assume it’s a clean game, because it’s easier to think that way when you’re sipping a beer over the grill, enjoying a Sunday afternoon like a normal person.

But every once in a while reality rears its ugly head and the Astros’ trashcan-banging is right out there for everyone to see. Some people clamber out to the shed to grab the torch and pitchfork (these days many people keep those babies holstered at the ready for on-demand outrage). Others rationalize, or plug their ears. Some couldn’t care less.

Some, like me, tend to withdraw and direct attention elsewhere until the storm’s blown over. A global pandemic made that a lot easier.

Now that the storm’s [sort of] blown over and the mobs have become distracted elsewhere, I’ve become slightly more interested in what actually happened. Cue Andy Martino’s book telling the inside story of the Astros scandal and a broader history of sign stealing in MLB baseball.  

"What Houston did was the logical extension of more than a century of teams looking for an edge on the fringes of legality. But it was also new and different from anything that came before it."

Resetting expectations: maybe ignore one part of the subtitle.

Cheated delivers on the promise of revealing the inside story of the Astros scandal. Martino focuses heavily on the players, coaches and staff instrumental to the scheme, providing a narrow peek behind the curtain of the sign-stealing culture around the league.

The strength of the book is the quality of the reporting of perspectives of those within the Astros organization and a few others around the league affected most by the scandal.

My biggest disappointment was the book’s lack of depth regarding the back half of the subtitle: …and a Colorful History of Sign Stealing. My expectations would have been much more fair if that wasn’t included. In retrospect I’m not sure what I thought or think “colorful” is supposed to mean. I guess I half-thought something like colorful equals many different colors, meaning many angles, broad coverage, exhaustive, comprehensive.

  • What I expected: 80/20 distribution of history of sign stealing/Astros sign stealing
  • What the book is: 20/80 distribution of history of sign stealing/Astros sign stealing

If you’re interested to really explore the detailed history of MLB sign stealing, this book won’t scratch your itch. There are a couple chapters early in the book briefly covering a few infamous instances of MLB sign stealing, but each instance deserves its own full-length book to fully explore.

Even the part of the book dedicated to the modern culture sign stealing feels like itches unscratched. Martino repeatedly mentions Carlos Beltran’s suspicion of league-wide tech-based sign stealing schemes supposedly justifying their own trashcan-banging scheme. But there’s little follow-up. Is Beltran just making this up? Rationalizing? Maybe mum’s the word. And that’s understandable, and fine. But it still feels like there’s a whole lot of story that still hasn’t been told.

And that’s how I felt when I finished reading this book. There’s more story to be told.

How readable?

Very readable. I was able to breeze through this one in a couple days.

Like many others in the topical/nonfiction realm, the book reads like a very long sports article.

Martino is a journalist, and writes like a journalist. There’s thick meat on the bones and little fat to trim.

My favorite part.

The implicit re-framing of what it’s like to play professional baseball.

Cheating isn’t something I think about much as someone who only watches. As a spectator I easily lose perspective and gloss over the hypercompetitiveness in professional sports. And how bad it can be when you start believing everyone else is cheating – so why shouldn’t I? This problem not only pits team against team, but teammate against teammate.

Chances are in those moments where everyone’s standing around between pitches there’s some intense calculation and gamesmanship happening, and it’s a skill that varies from player to player. Fans don’t see it. Most other players and coaches might not see it.

What could I possibly not like?

If you value an immersive story with vibrant characters, emotional ups and downs, moments of levity and compelling story structure, this isn’t your book. The prose is reportorial. Facts and testimonials are reported. And that’s how it probably should be. Any spice or other flavor can taste like editorializing. And a New York-based sportswriter reporting on a recent rival sports team must tread lightly.

If you’re an Astros fan, you’ll probably hate this. This felt like Star Wars for non-Astros baseball fans. The Astros are The Empire. Jeff Luhnow is Emperor Sparky What’s-His-Name, a ruthless, amoral innovation-hungry tyrant whose thirst for power knows know boundaries. His minions bend to his will. AJ Hinch is Kylo Ren; Alex Cora, some other Empire general who’s a little too comfortable with empire and wrecks less stuff. Carlos Beltran, et al players are storm troopers. The Yankees and every other MLB team are innocent bystanders who just want to play a clean game and have clean fun.

That’s not really what it is, but I can guarantee that’s definitely how this will feel for Astros fans.


This is the current go-to resource for the story about how the Astros sign stealing scandal happened. You’ll get great anecdotes, quotes and testimonials from the people who really mattered specific to this one scandal. You will probably have a new perspective on certain players, coaches, staff and executives.

But on the broader topic of sign stealing in baseball, the surface is hardly scratched. I might have more questions after reading this book than I had before it. This volume feels like the best we’re going to get for now until 20 years from now when this MLB generation retires and begins spilling their regretful guts. This is a tough topic, and Martino admirably takes it on. But I’m left with an incomplete feeling.

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