Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred issued year-long suspensions for Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow today following the results of the league’s investigation into sign-stealing in 2017. Shortly afterwards, club owner Jim Crane, citing “higher standards,” went further, firing both Hinch and Luhnow.
Though no players were sanctioned, MLB’s dramatic action against Houston included a $5 million fine, the highest allowable fine under the newest Major League Constitution, which went into effect this month. Manfred further ordered that the Astros forfeit their regular first and second round selections in the 2020 and 2021 First-Year Player Drafts.
Manfred Takes Decisive Action
Manfred’s decisions on discipline came following a report conducted by the MLB Department of Investigations. Over the course a three-month review, DOI interviewed 68 witnesses, including players, field staff, and front office personnel, and reviewed more than 70,000 e-mails and text messages.
DOI found that beginning in 2017 the Astros used the live game feed from the center field camera to help decode and transmit opposing teams’ sign sequences. What’s more, according to Manfred, then-bench coach Alex Cora “arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout.”
Decoded signs were surreptitiously relayed to other Astros through a signaling system. The team experimented communicating the stolen signs via clapping or whistling before settling on banging a trash can, sometimes using a massage gun.
In his nine-page statement announcing the disciplinary moves Commissioner Manfred said that early in the 2017 season Cora “began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information.” Manfred noted that while Manager Hinch neither devised nor participated in the banging scheme—and, in fact, twice physically damaged the monitors Cora had installed—Hinch, oddly, did not take decisive action to end it.
Astros Ignored Manfred’s Early Warnings
Red Sox fans will recall “the Apple Watch” incident of August 2017, when the Sox under then-manager John Farrell, were accused of relaying opponents’ signs from their replay review room to the dugout using smart watches.
At the time of that incident, Manfred reiterated the prohibition on the use of electronic equipment during games for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a team an advantage. Manfred went further, issuing a memo to all 30 MLB teams, stating that any future violations would be taken “extremely seriously.” And yet, the commissioner says, the “the Astros continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the Postseason.”
Red Sox Next on Hot Seat
At a time of year when Red Sox Nation would expect to be focused on the Hot Stove, instead, we will be forced to watch the hot seat on Jersey Street. Beyond any stain to Alex Cora’s reputation for the events in Houston, there’s now a separate investigation into the Red Sox for potential sign stealing in 2018, Cora’s first year in Boston.
The commissioner today was unequivocal, stating that “Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme [in Houston] and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct.”
That certainly sounds like some form of discipline for Cora is coming, though Manfred said he “will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.”