MLB delivers severe punishment for Astros after 2017 sign-stealing scandal

Houston Astros manager AJ Hinch. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Major League Baseball handed down severe punishments for the Houston Astros in the wake of their illegal sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 season.

As first reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for the entire 2020 season, fined the organization $5 million, and took away their first and second-round selections in each of the next two MLB Drafts.

Astros owner Jim Crane responded by quickly firing Hinch and Luhnow.

The suspension of Hinch is the longest administered by the league on a manager since Pete Rose was given a lifetime ban in 1989 for betting on baseball.

Former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman, who was fired in October for inappropriate actions and remarks in the clubhouse, was also placed on MLB’s ineligible list.

Baseball has not seen multiple suspensions of this severity administered to the same team since the famed Black Sox scandal in 1919 when the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. 

During the 2017 season in which the Astros won their first and only World Series title — and defeated the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS — it was revealed that the team stole signals with a camera in center field.

The Yankees did not respond to multiple inquiries from AMNewYork Metro seeking comment.

The feed was relayed to a television monitor situated in the tunnel connecting the clubhouse and the dugout. Signs were deciphered and then relayed to the team by an employee who would bang on a trash can.

The plan was devised by then-bench coach Alex Cora, who is currently the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

Punishment for Cora will not be handed down until MLB’s investigation of the Red Sox’s sign-stealing accusations in 2018 is completed, per Rosenthal and Drellich. Crane’s decision to fire Hinch and Luhnow, though, suggests that Boston could follow suit. It would be a huge blow for the Yankees’ AL East rivals. 

The initial allegations placed on the Astros were not surprising to former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, now the bench boss of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was fired after losing that winner-take-all Game 7 to the Astros in the 2017 postseason.

“I wasn’t shocked We had put in a lot of things to try to combat certain things,” Girardi said (h/t Scott Lauber, Philadelphia Inquirer). “You know, word gets around. That’s a suspicion of mine every ballpark that you go to. Wherever you go you worry about people trying to steal your signs, changing signs over and over, having mechanisms where the catcher doesn’t have to worry about running to the mound. We went through other things in 2017 and we tried to guard against it and to do certain things… I thought we did a pretty good job of combating it.”

In Manfred’s nine-page letter, he confirmed that the Astros used the sign-stealing scheme in the postseason:

“Notwithstanding the publicity surrounding the Red Sox incident, and the September 15th memorandum that I sent to all Clubs, the Astros continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the Postseason.”

The extensive investigation, spearheaded by Manfred, reviewed approximately 76,000 emails and numerous other forms of communication.

Sign stealing has always been a part of Major League Baseball. However, it is only legal when it is done by players on the field of play. Any use of foreign instruments or technologies is prohibited.

Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017 and was a part of the scandal, will not be suspended.

Editor’s note: This is an updating story

Joe Pantorno