It’s a rather ugly day for baseball, even if we saw it coming. The Astros’ video-aided sign-stealing effort had already been laid bare by video evidence. But all the underlying facts weren’t known. And it was far from clear how commissioner Rob Manfred would handle the punishment.
As it turns out, the Houston organization was hit with a $5MM fine (the maximum permissible) and the loss of four top draft choices. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were each suspended for a year. The team subsequently fired both men. Then-bench coach and current Red Sox manager Alex Cora also seems likely to be punished, though his precise comeuppance has yet to be determined pending an investigation into the Boston organization.
For full details on the team punishments, click here. In brief: Manfred found that a 2017 scheme to convey signs to batters in real-time “was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed.” An ensuing effort “to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora.” Punishing players was deemed “impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other Clubs.” That wasn’t the only reasoning, though. More relevant, Manfred said, was the fact that GMs and managers are made “responsible for ensuring that the players both understand the rules and adhere to them.”
So, our first poll question: was the assessment of a fine and taking of four top draft choices an appropriate punishment for the organization? Some around the game weren’t satisfied, but how do you see it? (Poll link for app users; response order randomized.)
While he declined to pursue players — beyond the factors he noted, there’d have been major labor-relations implications and complications under the CBA — Manfred did still find that individual punishment was warranted for those in a position of added responsibility. Specifically, Luhnow and Hinch received personal punishment. (Cora, an active participant, presumably will as well.) Manfred did not find any reason to discipline or chastise Crane personally. To the contrary, he specifically cleared the owner of culpability. Evidently, the oversight responsibility concepts that undergirded the punishment of Hinch and (especially) Luhnow did not extend past the baseball operations department.
Whether there was any coordination or exchange of information between the league and the Astros regarding the firing of those two leaders is not known. But the team’s subsequent action certainly added quite some heft to the total blow that landed. For full details on the firings, click here.
Luhnow disclaimed any knowledge of the schemes, though the report indicates he likely had some level of awareness of the team’s 2018 efforts. His statement cited the report’s reference to lower-level employee and player responsibility, though he also acknowledged and accepted his own failure of oversight. Luhnow was punished because he “failed to take any adequate steps to ensure that his Club was in compliance with the rules.” Manfred also blasted the culture that Luhnow created in the baseball operations department, a characterization that Crane disputed.
Ultimately, Luhnow was suspended for one year and dismissed from his position. Fair? (Poll link for app users; response order randomized.)
As for Hinch, the circumstances were somewhat different. He was unquestionably aware that the sign-stealing efforts were ongoing and acknowledged as much in his statement. While he is said to have disagreed and at times even attempted to interfere with the stratagem, Hinch obviously did not utilize his authority or avail himself of the available means of halting the effort. In his statement after today’s outcome, he apologized for that failure.
Like the GM, Hinch received a one-year ban and ended up canned. Was this a just outcome? (Poll link for app users; response order randomized.)