MLB hammers Astros for sign-stealing scandal: 4 draft picks forfeited; $5M fine; suspended manager, GM fired

Manager A.J. Hinch, GM Jeff Luhnow fired by team owner after MLB announces suspensions

Manager AJ Hinch #14 talks with Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros, prior to game two of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas.
Manager AJ Hinch #14 talks with Jeff Luhnow, General Manager of the Houston Astros, prior to game two of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park on October 05, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (2019 Getty Images)

HOUSTON – Major League Baseball hammered the Houston Astros for cheating during their 2017 World Series run, suspending the manager and general manager for one year and taking away four top draft picks over the next two years.

Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended by MLB for one year for allowing the scandal to happen. Owner Jim Crane announced both have been fired during a Monday afternoon press conference.

The Astros will also forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.

MLB also fined the Astros $5 million.

Sign-stealing scandal

Former Astros starting pitcher Mike Fiers spoke with Ken Rosenthal, of The Athletic, in November, about sign-stealing methods the team used during its World Series run in 2017.

The article sparked an uproar among fans and MLB personnel.

MLB launched an investigation led by Bryan Seeley and Moira Weinberg, of the DOI, covering the period from 2016 through 2019.

Officials interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players. The Astros fully cooperated with the investigation, according to MLB’s findings.

At the start of the 2017 season, members of the Astros’ video replay review room used live game feed from the center field camera to try to decode and transmit signs from opposing teams for when an Astros runner was on second base, MLB officials found.

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 players in the dugout. Those players would relay the sequence to the runner on second base, who would then decipher the catcher’s signs and signal to the batter from second base, according to officials.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora called the replay review room early in the season to get the sign information, MLB officials said.

Sometimes, workers in the replay review room would send the sign sequence information by text message to the smart watches or cellphones of staff members on the bench, officials said.

About two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltran, discussed that the team could improve on decoding signs and communicating them to the batter, so Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside the team dugout, MLB officials said.

Players would watch the live feed of the center field camera, decode the sign and bang on a nearby trash can with a bat or a massage gun to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter, according to officials.

MLB officials said one or two bangs generally indicated certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to fastballs.

Investigators said the scheme was player-driven and, besides Cora, coaches weren’t involved in the banging scheme. Everyone in the Astros’ dugout presumably heard or saw the banging, though, and workers in the replay review room continued to decode signs, baseball officials said.

MLB rules

MLB’s findings note that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees were both fined during the 2017 season for using electronic equipment during games in impermissible ways. The commissioner send out a memorandum reiterating the rules, officials said.

“(All clubs were put) on notice that future violations would be taken extremely seriously by my office,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in his findings report. “I specifically stated in the memorandum that the general manager and field manager of clubs would be held accountable for any violations of the rules in the future.”

During the 2017 off-season, MLB notified clubs that dugout and replay review phones would be monitored to make sure they weren’t used for any other purpose than discussing whether to challenge a play on the field.

MLB allowed the Astros to move their replay review system to a video room closer to the dugout before the 2018 season. That falls in line with the setup of many parks around the league, officials said.

Sign stealing ends in 2018

While investigators found no evidence that the Astros continued the banging scheme in 2018, the team’s replay review room kept decoding signs using the live center field camera feed, according to officials.

At some point during the 2018 season, the team ended the scheme because players no longer believed it was effective, investigators said.

There’s no sign the Astros used electronic equipment to steal signs during the 2018 playoffs, the 2019 season or the 2019 playoffs, MLB officials said.

Investigators said the trash can banging scheme was operated by players and Cora. The sign decoding scheme was driven by players, Cora and lower-level baseball operations employees, according to officials.

Luhnow’s involvement

Though he wasn’t directly implicated in the scheme, investigators said Luhnow was made aware of the replay review room efforts in at least two emails.

There is conflicting evidence about conversations with Luhnow on the topic, investigators found.

“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 the adherence to the rules is ingrained in the fabric of the organization and to stop bad behavior as soon as it occurred,” Manfred said in his report.

Player involvement

Investigators said many players involved admitted they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line of fair competition or MLB rules.

Players told officials they would have immediately stopped the scheme if Hinch told them to, the findings say.

Some players told investigators they believe the scheme was more distracting than useful to hitters.

Regardless of the players involved, Manfred said he made it clear in 2017 that managers and general mangers would be held accountable for such violations.

White Sox scare

Astros players told officials there was a sense of panic during a game against the Chicago White Sox when pitcher Danny Farquhar appeared to notice the trash can bangs.

Before the game ended, Astros players removed the monitor from the wall in the tunnel and hid it in an office, according to investigators.

For the postseason, a portable monitor was set up on a table to replace the monitor that had been mounted to the wall, MLB officials said.

Luhnow’s punishment

Manfred said Luhnow adamantly denies knowledge of the banging and replay review schemes. The investigation revealed no evidence that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme, Manfred said.

“I will hold him personally accountable for the conduct of the club,” Manfred said in the report. “It is the job of the general manager to be aware of the activities of his staff and players.”

“While no one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics, it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other clubs and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic,” Manfred wrote.

Luhnow was suspended without pay from Monday through the completion of the 2020 World Series. During that period, he was not to be allowed to perform any services for or conduct any business on behalf of the Astros.

Those specifics are largely irrelevant now that Luhnow has been fired.

“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,” Manfred wrote.

Hinch’s involvement, punishment

Investigators said Hinch wasn’t involved in starting or operating the banging scheme. He told investigators he didn’t support the scheme, calling it “wrong and distracting.”

Hinch said he tried to show his disapproval by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, requiring it to be replaced. He didn’t specifically stop the scheme or tell players that he disapproved of it, however, according to the findings.

“As the person with the responsibility for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justification for Hinch’s failure to act,” Manfred said in the findings.

Hinch was also suspended from Monday through the end of the 2020 World Series, with the same restrictions and future warnings as Luhnow. He has also been fired by the team.

Alex Cora

Cora not only won the 2017 World Series with the Astros, he also took over as the manager of the Red Sox and won the World Series the following year.

Manfred is withholding a decision on discipline for Cora until after the DIO completes its investigation into the Red Sox sign stealing scheme.

Team discipline

Perhaps more damaging than the individual suspensions to Luhnow and Hinch were the team punishments resulting from the sign-stealing schemes.

The Astros will no longer have first- or second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. Since 2010, the Astros have used first-round picks to draft the likes of George Springer (2011), Carlos Correa (2012), Kyle Tucker (2015) and Alex Bregman (2016).

The team will also pay a fine of $5 million to the office of the commissioner -- the largest possible find allowed by the MLB constitution.

Full MLB findings

If you would like to read the full MLB findings report, it is posted below.

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