Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred says he and his office have reviewed 75,000 emails relating to the Houston Astros’ electronic sign-stealing scandal. They have interviewed at least three current major league managers, an untold number of players and dozens of major league personnel overall.
All that gumshoe work may not inform the commissioner’s impending punishment of the Astros than 19 words he put forth on Sept. 15, 2017:
“All 30 Clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions.”
This proclamation came in the wake of a groundbreaking sign-stealing scandal involving the Red Sox, an Apple Watch and the home video room at Fenway Park.
So when Manfred slapped the Red Sox on the wrist, he accompanied the fine with a missive to every major league club, that sign-stealing is cool but, he reminded, “no such (electronic) equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.’”
Yet there went the Astros, just a week after this pointed Manfred memo was circulated, banging away in a relatively meaningless late-September game against the Chicago White Sox, their video camera-laptop-trash can system apparently in midseason form. With any luck, MLB’s investigation will reveal the extent of the Astros’ shenanigans that postseason, when they went 8-1 at Minute Maid Park and won the World Series.
The bill for thumbing their nose at the commissioner is about to come due.
Manfred’s office is soon expected to announce penalties resulting from the Astros’ alleged scheme. It appears the Astros cooperated with the investigation, which is wise, since they say the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
But if there’s anything worse than a cover-up, it is blatantly flouting your czar’s edict handed down just days earlier.
The result may be, at least temporarily, an Astros organization that looks a lot different than it did just 10 weeks ago.
Assistant general manager Brandon Taubman is already gone, fired under pressure from the commissioner’s office after a profane, bizarre and misogynistic diatribe toward media members that the organization initially denied before stumbling through an awkward contrition that spanned most of the World Series.
Now, general manager Jeff Luhnow, architect of the franchise’s teardown and subsequent buildup into a near-dynasty, among the game’s most influential figures by ushering the analytics era into a bolder but also colder stratosphere, is in the cross hairs.
It was the GMs that were targeted in the memo, the most important adults in the room, charged with policing their own. That includes the managers, who should have some idea what’s going in their dugouts, the tunnels and the video room.
It seems impossible for Luhnow or manager A.J. Hinch to emerge unscathed from this. Luhnow either failed to convey the memo’s import, or knew the Astros were running afoul and chose to let it continue as the club marched toward its first championship.
Whether Hinch imparted the message to his players – “Now boys, knock it off!” – or took a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil approach, he is, in fact, the ranking adult in the dugout, the tunnel leading away from it and the clubhouse. Knowing about the Trash Can Timbales and doing nothing, or not knowing about it – the latter seems particularly unlikely – both add up to managerial malfeasance.
And that makes it a near certainty that a commissioner’s office rightfully loaded for bear and badly needing to send a message will suspend both for an extended period.
That it is the Astros who will have their brass disappeared by MLB is somewhat ironic. They were the victims, after all, of a hacking effort by Chris Correa, who as a Cardinals scouting director and former Luhnow cohort in St. Louis, accessed the Astros’ database and ended up with a lifetime ban from the game and a 46-month prison sentence.
Legally, Correa’s hack job was a serious offense. Just as Luhnow and Co. may find themselves harshly punished to send a message that electronic sign-stealing won’t be tolerated, Correa bore the brunt of a U.S. Attorney terribly eager to exploit this low-hanging fruit of a cybercrime.
From a baseball perspective, too, Correa ran terribly afoul of the law. Proprietary information is more golden than ever in the game, crucial in procuring and developing talent.