Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for one year. MLB’s ruling also forces the Astros to forfeit their first and second-round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB drafts, according to an announcement from the league on Monday. Shortly after the release of the report, the Astros fired Luhnow and Hinch, the team announced.
“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,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Monday.
“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,” Manfred added.
The Astros will also be fined $5 million as well, which is the maximum allowed under current MLB rules.
MLB’s investigation, which covered a period starting in 2016 until today, began following a November 2019 article by The Athletic that the Astros engaged in sign-stealing.
The Astros, according to MLB, began using live game footage from the center field camera in an attempt to decode the opposing team’s sign sequence from the catcher and pitcher when an Astros player was on second base. This would give a batter the possible edge of knowing the pitch type, significantly increasing his chances for a hit.
“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,” MLB’s report on the investigation said.
Alex Cora, who is now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017. MLB’s report said after the sign-stealing operation started, Cora began to call the replay room on the replay phone to obtain sign-stealing information. On multiple occasions, MLB said, employees in the replay room sent sign-stealing information to staff members’ smartwatches or phones on the bench.
The Astros’ sign-stealing operation advanced when players, including current New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, went to Cora with a way to improve sign-stealing.
MLB said Cora arranged for a monitor displaying the center field camera feed to be placed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout, which was allowed by MLB rules at the time. The feed, which was supposed to be used for “player development purposes,” was instead used by the Astros to set up the sign-stealing operation.
Players, MLB said, would watch TV with the center field feed, decode the signs and then bang on a trash can with a bat to alert the batter as to what pitch was coming.
“Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball,” MLB said. “Witnesses consistently described the 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.”
Cora, who is facing similar allegations during his current tenure as Red Sox manager, was not handed a punishment Monday by MLB, but one is expected.
“I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI [Department of Investigations] completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager,” Manfred wrote in his report Monday.
During its investigation, MLB said it interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players. MLB said it also reviewed “tens of thousands” of emails, Slack messages, texts, video clips and photographs.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.
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