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Exclusive: MLB hands down unprecedented penalties for Astros after sign-stealing investigation

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In the most dramatic ruling of his five-year tenure, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred came down hard on the Astros Monday for illegally stealing signs during their World Series championship season in 2017.

The unprecedented penalties are Manfred’s response to the damage the Astros inflicted on the sport’s integrity, and should serve as a powerful deterrent to any team that engages in such conduct in the future.

The penalties, according to sources with knowledge of Manfred’s decision, include:

 A one-year suspension for general manager Jeff Luhnow.

 A one-year suspension for manager A.J. Hinch.

 The forfeitures of first- and second-round draft picks in both 2020 and ’21.

 A fine of $5 million, the maximum allowed under MLB’s constitution.

 The placement of former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman on baseball’s ineligible list.

On Nov. 12, The Athletic reported that the Astros stole signs during regular-season home games in 2017 with the aid of a center-field camera. The next day, The Athletic reported that Alex Cora, the team’s bench coach at the time, was a mastermind of the team’s sign-stealing scheme.

Discipline for Cora will be determined after baseball completes its investigation of the Red Sox for separate sign-stealing allegations that occurred while Cora was the team’s manager in 2018, as reported by The Athletic last week.

No players were disciplined. MLB instead chose to issue penalties to those who were in positions of authority.

The suspension of Hinch is the longest for a manager since Pete Rose voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban on Aug. 24, 1989, and matches the second-longest in the game’s history. The suspension of Luhnow matches the sixth-longest for an executive. Former Braves general manager John Coppolella and former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa received lifetime bans in 2017. Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner received a lifetime ban in July 1990, but was reinstated in March 1993.

The Astros’ violations stemmed in part from the rise of technology within the sport, technology that gave teams new tools to extract perceived advantages over opponents.

To steal signs, the Astros routed the feed from the center-field camera to a screen situated in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse, steps from the team’s dugout at Minute Maid Park. There, people with the team decoded the signs and communicated pitches to hitters in realtime by banging on a garbage can.

The accounts of the system were provided to The Athletic by four people who were with the 2017 Astros, including pitcher Mike Fiers.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” said Fiers, who was with the team from 2015-17. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

MLB launched its investigation upon publication of The Athletic’s report. Videos shared online, including those produced by Jomboy Media, appeared to offer corroborating evidence of the system the Astros put into place.

During the winter meetings in December, Manfred said he thought “this is probably the most thorough investigation that the commissioner’s office has ever undertaken.” He said the league had 76,000 emails to review, plus other messages, including from the communications platform Slack.

Manfred, who took over for Bud Selig as commissioner on Jan. 25, 2015, previously had penalized teams for significant rules violations.

In Jan. 2017, Manfred forced the Cardinals to surrender their top two draft picks to the Astros and pay them $2 million after Correa, the Cardinals’ former amateur scouting director, received a 46-month sentence for hacking the Astros’ database.

In Nov. 2017, after determining the Braves had violated rules for international signings and the amateur draft, Manfred required the team to forfeit 13 international prospects as well as their third-round pick in 2018, and to endure strict restrictions in the international market over the next three years. Coppolella received a lifetime ban from Major League Baseball, in part because he was not truthful with the league’s investigators.

Sign-stealing is as old as the sport itself, and is legal when done by players using their own wits on the field. The involvement of electronics, however, is prohibited.

In recent years, electronic sign-stealing created paranoia and finger-pointing inside the sport. Teams became highly suspicious of one another — and as shown by the conduct of the 2017 Astros, at least some of that suspicion was rooted in reality.

On Sept. 15, 2017, Manfred punished two teams, the Red Sox and the Yankees, for conduct related to electronic sign stealing. The league’s statement accompanying the punishments — fines for each team — included a stern warning for the entire league: “all 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

One of the incidents described in The Athletic’s report on the Astros — an account in which Danny Farquhar, then pitching for the White Sox, described changing his signs in response to hearing suspicious banging from the Astros’ dugout — occurred after the league had issued its warning.

The story of electronic sign-stealing in baseball in recent years traces back to video replay rooms. The introduction of instant replay challenges in 2014 led to the creation of such rooms, which are intended to help team personnel review disputed plays through numerous camera angles.

What some teams figured out quickly is that those rooms provided the tools to help decode sign sequences — highly valuable information for base runners interested in relaying signs to hitters.

The Astros’ system in 2017 bypassed the involvement of anyone on the field, and stands as the most flagrant confirmed example of electronic sign-stealing. MLB updated its rules in 2018 and again in 2019 in attempts to broadly combat electronic sign-stealing. The league may make further changes for the upcoming season.

Edited by AriGold2.0
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You can tell this was written with a baseball audience in mind, because I assumed they stole physical signs. Like, from opposing teams arenas, or something. Which would be really funny.

 

It wasn't until the article mentioned the use of cameras, that I clued in that they meant hand signs.

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Just now, Where's Wellwood said:

You can tell this was written with a baseball audience in mind, because I assumed they stole physical signs. Like, from opposing teams arenas, or something. Which would be really funny.

 

It wasn't until the article mentioned the use of cameras, that I clued in that they meant hand signs.

 

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For a non-baseball person, can someone explain, what's the big deal?

 

If a catcher is sending signals to the pitcher that the other team can see and interpret, why isn't that just part of the game?  Why not just change your signals so other teams can't interpret them?

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1 minute ago, goalie13 said:

For a non-baseball person, can someone explain, what's the big deal?

 

If a catcher is sending signals to the pitcher that the other team can see and interpret, why isn't that just part of the game?  Why not just change your signals so other teams can't interpret them?

Its fine for players to do it, but it was cameras catching the signals going to the backroom, then they seemed to be banging and making noise so the batters would know.  The rules say you can't use electronics to steal signs which I guess they clearly were doing.  I am not big into baseball but definitely seems shady and pretty bad.

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Just now, HerrDrFunk said:

Meanwhile, Pete Rose is banned for life for betting on his own team.

It's not quite that cut and dry. What he did damaged the integrity of the game. If the games are not on the level why would anyone pay to see them?

 

He was the manager. If he bet on the team to win on Saturday it could effect the way he managed the team in Friday's game.

 

For example, he might rest a regular on Friday and play him on Saturday. It could definitely effect the way he utilized his bullpen. Keeping his better relievers available for Saturday.

 

 

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1 minute ago, nuckin_futz said:

It's not quite that cut and dry. What he did damaged the integrity of the game. If the games are not on the level why would anyone pay to see them?

 

He was the manager. If he bet on the team to win on Saturday it could effect the way he managed the team in Friday's game.

 

For example, he might rest a regular on Friday and play him on Saturday. It could definitely effect the way he utilized his bullpen. Keeping his better relievers available for Saturday.

 

 

Agree to disagree. I think teams tanking for a higher draft picks does more to damage the integrity of the game more than someone putting added incentive on his team to win.  

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2 minutes ago, HerrDrFunk said:

Agree to disagree. I think teams tanking for a higher draft picks does more to damage the integrity of the game more than someone putting added incentive on his team to win.  

It's a slippery slope. Do teams really tank for draft picks in MLB? NHL and NBA have lotteries anyway. As I am sure all of us in here know all too well. :sick:

 

Just now, gurn said:

If.

It's been a long time but I think that was the crux of MLB's case against him. He made questionable line up decisions and really couldn't explain them.

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1 hour ago, Master Mind said:

I was happy to see them lose the World Series this year.

As was I.

 

I'll be cheering against them in future games....unless, of course, they're playing the Yankees or Dodgers.....

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16 minutes ago, nuckin_futz said:

It's a slippery slope. Do teams really tank for draft picks in MLB? NHL and NBA have lotteries anyway. As I am sure all of us in here know all too well. :sick:

I actually have no idea how the draft works in MLB. Regardless of the sport though, I think a team putting the worst roster possible out there damages integrity more than what Rose did.

 

It’s also nuts that the Astros definitively cheated to win yet Luhnow and Hinch will be back with open arms in a year from now. 

Edited by HerrDrFunk
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