Monday, January 13, 2020

MLB Releases Report On Astros Cheating; Mets Manager Beltran Implicated

Photo by Jason Schott.


Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred released his report on the Houston Astros' cheating methods from the 2017 to 2019 seasons.


Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch have been suspended for the 2020 season, and the teams forfeited their first and second round picks in the 2020 and '21 drafts, along with a fione of $5 million.

The report also implicates new Mets Manager Carlos Beltran, who played for Houston in 2017, and Alex Cora, who was Houston's bench coach in 2017 before becoming the manager of the Boston Red Sox the following season, in running the cheating apparatus through the Astros' video replay room.

These are excerpts from Comissioner Manfred's report:

Statement of the Commissioner:

On November 12, 2019, former Houston Astros player Mike Fiers publicly alleged in an article published by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic that the Astros had engaged in sign-stealing methods in 2017 that violated MLB’s rules. The allegations in the article created significant concern among many of our fans and other MLB Clubs regarding the adherence to our rules by those participating in our games, and the principles of sportsmanship and fair competition. As I have previously stated, I treat these allegations with the utmost seriousness, and I instructed our Department of Investigations (“DOI”) to conduct a thorough investigation. I believe transparency with our fans and our Clubs regarding what occurred is extremely important, and this report is my attempt to achieve that objective. At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.


Rules Violations in the 2017 Season:

At the beginning of the 2017 season, employees in the Astros’ video replay review room began using the live game feed from the center field camera to attempt to decode and transmit opposing teams’ sign sequences (i.e., which sign flashed by the catcher is the actual sign) for use when an Astros runner was on second base. Once the sign sequence was decoded, a player in the video replay review room would act as a “runner” to relay the information to the dugout, and a person in the dugout would notify the players in the dugout or signal the sign sequence to the runner on second base, who in turn would decipher the catcher’s sign and signal to the batter from second base. Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information. On at least some occasions, the employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence information by text message, which was received on the smart watch of a staff member on the bench, or in other cases on a cell phone stored nearby.
Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltr├ín, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter. Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter. (Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.) Players occasionally also used a massage gun to bang the trash can. Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball.
Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme. However, witnesses made clear that everyone proximate to the Astros’ dugout presumptively heard or saw the banging. In addition to players using the monitor installed near the dugout to decode signs, employees in the Astros’ replay review room continued to decode sign sequences using the monitors in the room and communicate those sequences to the dugout for use when a runner was on second base. Both methods of sign stealing were used by the team in parallel throughout the 2017 season...

The Astros’ methods in 2017 and 2018 to decode and communicate to the batter an opposing Club’s signs were not an initiative that was planned or directed by the Club’s top baseball operations officials. Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed. The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora. The efforts involving the replay review room staff were mentioned in at least two emails sent to Luhnow, and there is conflicting evidence about conversations with Luhnow on the topic. Regardless of the level of Luhnow’s actual knowledge, the Astros’ violation of rules in 2017 and 2018 is attributable, in my view, to a failure by the leaders of the baseball operations department and the Field Manager to adequately manage the employees under their supervision, to establish a culture
in which adherence to the rules is ingrained in the fabric of the organization, and to stop bad behavior as soon as it occurred.

Discipline

I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline. I base this finding on the fact that the Club’s senior baseball operations executives were given express notice in September 2017 that I would hold them accountable for violations of our policies covering sign stealing, and those individuals took no action to ensure that the Club’s players and staff complied with those policies during the 2017 Postseason and the 2018 regular season. The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB Clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated. And while it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game.

Astros Team Discipline
1. The Club will forfeit its regular first and second round selections in the 2020 and 2021 First-Year Player Drafts. To the extent that the Club does not have a regular first or second round selection in either of those years by operation of the Basic Agreement or Major League Rules, the Club shall forfeit the applicable selection in the next First-Year Player Draft in which it possesses such selection. For the purpose of clarity, the Club will forfeit two regular first round selections and two regular second round selections in total. The forfeited draft selections will be removed from the selection order and all other selections will move up.
2. The Club will pay to my office a fine of $5 million, which is the highest allowable fine under the Major League Constitution.

Individual Discipline
1. Jeff Luhnow shall be suspended without pay for the period beginning on January 13, 2020 and ending on the day following the completion of the 2020 World Series. During the period of his suspension, Luhnow is prohibited from performing any services for or conducting any business on behalf of the Astros or any other Major League Club. Luhnow must not be present in any Major League, Minor League, or Spring Training facilities, including stadiums, and he may not travel with or on behalf of the Club. During the period of his suspension, my office will discuss with Luhnow an appropriate program of management/leadership training to ensure that no incidents of the type described in this report occur in the future. If Luhnow is found to engage in any future material violations of the Major League Rules, he will be placed on the permanently ineligible list.
2. A.J. Hinch shall be suspended without pay for the period beginning on January 13, 2020 and ending on the day following the completion of the 2020 World Series. During the period of his suspension, Hinch is prohibited from performing any services for or conducting any business on behalf of the Astros or any other Major League Club. Hinch must not be present in any Major League, Minor League, or Spring Training facilities, including stadiums, and he may not travel with or on behalf of the Club. If Hinch is found to engage in any future material violations of the Major League Rules, he will be placed on the permanently ineligible list.
3. Based on his inappropriate conduct in the clubhouse on October 19, 2019, Brandon Taubman shall be ineligible to perform services on behalf of any Major League Club, either as an employee or independent contractor, through the day following the completion of the 2020 World Series, at which time he will be eligible to apply to me for reinstatement. If Taubman is found to engage in any future material violations of the Major League Rules, he will be placed on the permanently ineligible list.

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