A New York district court judge has ordered MLB and the Yankees to unseal a 2017 letter sent by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to Yankees GM Brian Cashman regarding rules violations that occurred in 2015-16, as first reported by Evan Drellich of the Athletic. As Drellich suggested, the Yankees are likely to appeal the ruling, hear Greg Joyce and Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. The suit, brought by a collection of daily fantasy players against MLB, the Astros, and the Red Sox, was dismissed in April and is pending appeal to the Second Circuit. The Yankees are not a party in the action.
Given the Astros’ and Red Sox’s high-profile sign stealing scandals that arguably called into question the legitimacy of their respective 2017 and 2018 World Series titles, many will immediately raise their eyebrows at hearing the sport’s most prominent organization tied to similar allegations. However, it is important to note that the court’s decision to unseal the letter appears to be standard litigation procedure, not any sort of indictment of the letter’s contents.
In 2017, the Yankees were fined by MLB for wrongfully using their dugout phone. The league also investigated claims by the Red Sox that the New York club had used YES Network cameras to steal opposing teams’ signs. MLB could not substantiate those allegations. It seems the plaintiffs’ hope is to find evidence MLB permitted rampant sign stealing leaguewide, arguing the letter shows the commissioner was aware that the Yankees “engaged in a more serious, sign-stealing scheme” than MLB publicly let on, writes the court. Beyond the plaintiffs’ allegations, there is no evidence of such a scheme.
Indeed, the court writes that “much of the letter’s contents have already been revealed in the 2017 Press Release” that announced the Yankees’ punishment for dugout phone misuse, relays Drellich. An attorney for the Yankees reiterates that position, arguing that “the press release is accurate and states MLB’s conclusions.”
As part of a robust discovery process, correspondence between the league and teams potentially relevant to the proceedings would typically be turned over. However, MLB and the Yankees maintained this letter should remain sealed, arguing that unsealing it could result in “significant reputational injury” to both the league and club. Exactly what injury they fear is unclear, but the court noted that any reputational harm suffered would be “modest at best,” Drellich says.
Surely, some fans will take interest in the result of the Yankees’ forthcoming appeal and the letter’s contents. However, there’s very little beyond the allegations of an interested litigant that the Yankees participated in a sign stealing scheme at all, much less one that rivals the Astros’ (and to a lesser extent, Red Sox’s) violations.