In a press conference before Game 4 of the 2019 American League Championship Series, Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch was asked about sign stealing. The New York Yankees had heard whistling coming from the Astros dugout and were concerned.
Hinch dismissed it, saying in part “in reality, it’s a joke… Major League Baseball does a lot to ensure the fairness of the game.”
The incident was investigated, and while the MLB declared the Astros did not do anything wrong then, they are far from innocent now.
MLB Hands Out Serious Suspensions
En route to winning the World Series in 2017 and during the 2018 season, the Astros used electronic equipment to steal signs during games from other teams. League rules explicitly prohibit this. So, the MLB suspended Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow for the whole 2020 season without pay. This is the second longest suspension for a manager since Pete Rose’s lifetime ban in 1989.
The Astros directed a feed from a camera in center field of Minute Maid Park into the team’s dugout and decoded signs in real time during home games. The team then indicated pitch types to hitters by banging on a garbage can in the dugout. According to a report by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, “generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball.”
While Manfred acknowledged that neither Hinch nor Lunhow were directly responsible for the cheating scheme, they both received harsh sentences due to their failure to make sure their players were acting within the rules.
Alex Cora, the Astros bench coach in 2017, is said to be the main driver of the cheating scheme. According to Manfred, though, Cora will not face any consequences until the league finishes investigating the Boston Red Sox for a sign stealing incident of their own in 2018. Cora is currently the Red Sox manager, a post he has held for three years.
On Alex Cora, and the harsh discipline he could face: https://t.co/rBqNVSrFp2
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) January 13, 2020
The Astros will also lose their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. This is especially hurtful to the team, considering Houston traded its third, fourth and fifth ranked prospects for Zack Greinke at the trade deadline last season.
Finally, the Astros will be fined five million dollars, which is the maximum allowable amount under the MLB constitution.
From Bad to Worse
At two o’clock central time, Houston owner Jim Crane spoke to the media. He fired Hinch and Lunhow following the news of their suspensions, saying this:
In his report, Manfred found no evidence that Crane knew of the sign stealing scheme. The commissioner also had choice words to describe the overall culture of the Astros. He mentions former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman’s conduct. The Astros fired him in 2019 for inappropriate comments he made around a group of female reporters during the ALCS.
Rob Manfred went for the jugular in his notes on the culture in the Astros' baseball ops department. pic.twitter.com/y1kULIyz12
— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) January 13, 2020