After interviewing 68 witnesses and reviewing thousands of emails, video clips and photographs, the MLB concluded that the Houston Astros used electronic aids to steal pitch signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Penalties were severe. The investigation revealed that the Astros used video from a monitor to relay signs to players throughout the 2017 season and postseason in which they won the World Series.
Before the 2018 season, the Astros moved their replay review room nearer to the dugout. People from the replay room would then relay signs in-person as they watched the center field camera. Once the players believed the practice was not effective, it stopped and has not been utilized by the Astros since.
It is not against MLB rules to steal signs, the practice of relaying catchers’ signals and signaling them to one’s own team, but it is against MLB rules to use electronics to steal signs. Commissioner Rob Manfred made this very clear after the Boston Red Sox were caught using electronics to steal signs in 2017. The penalties were not as severe then but increased going forward, and Manfred emphasized that club officials would be held accountable for future violations.
Manfred delivered on that promise. Field Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year; the Astros fired both of them. The Astros were fined $5 million, the maximum penalty under the MLB Constitution. They lost their first and second-round draft picks for 2020 and 2021.
Commissioner Manfred made clear in his official statement that the owner of the organization, Jim Crane, who fully supported the investigation, was “extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization” and evidence shows that he was not involved in any way.
“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,” read part of Manfred’s statement regarding the suspension of Luhnow and Hinch.
Though the schemes, with the exception of bench coach Alex Cora, were player-driven, Lunhhow was included in at least two emails that mentioned the efforts. Luhnow denies previous knowledge of cheating. Manfred, however, made good on his promise to hold the General Manager and Field Manager of clubs who committed violations responsible.
Although it was clear that many players had participated in the illicit use of technology, no players were punished. Manfred stated that this was because it would be difficult to know exactly which players were involved and to what extent. He explained that it would also be impractical to punish a large number of players, many of whom now play for other teams.
After an extensive investigation, the Houston Astros are now set to pay the consequences for their actions and schemes. For the Astros, their sign-stealing may have helped for a time, but ultimately the crime did not pay.