Astros Cheating Scandal

MLB hands down discipline.

Jim Rome
January 14, 2020 - 11:23 am
AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow

USA Today

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Major League Baseball announced major league discipline yesterday on the Houston Astros after finding that the team used technology to cheat during the 2017 season. General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended by major league baseball for a year and the league announced that the team would be fined five million dollars and would lose the first and second round picks in this year and next year’s draft.

The fine is walk around money for a sports team. And the lost draft picks is bad, but not brutal. But the suspensions for Luhnow and Hinch are serious. Hinch’s suspension is the longest in baseball history since Pete Rose. That’s how serious.

And as the reaction from that news was still pouring in, Astros owner Jim Crane announced that Luhnow and Hinch had been fired. Damn. One bombshell after another.

Let me say two things about that – one, I have always liked having AJ Hinch on the show. He’s a great guest, the conversations are great, and he’s a great manager. I like AJ Hinch. 

Two, the Astros had to move on from Luhnow and Hinch. We can get into whether or not those are the right two guys to pay the price, but if MLB is saying they’re suspended for the year for their role in this cheating scandal, you can’t have an interim GM and manager for one year and then bring them back again in 2021. That would be too weird and too awkward.

But it doesn’t make the fact that they’re gone any less shocking. Or the timing of all this any less weird. 

Because it’s almost like MLB came out with the news the day after the NFL playoffs and the day of the college football national title. If I was a conspiracy theorist, I’d suggest that they wanted to get this out there and then have it go away. Because any other day and this would be the biggest story of the day and would carry the day, if not the week. Now, it’s almost kind of an afterthought that a team was found to have been using video technology to crack the code on pitches being signaled and then banging a trash can to alert the batter to certain pitches. 

But still, the fact that the GM and the manager of this Astros run are gone is shocking. 

Don’t get me wrong. Cheating isn’t shocking. That’s not shocking at all. This goes back years. There is a rich history of it, going back years, involving mascots, phones, lights, walkie-talkies, Apple watches, and just about every team at one point or another.  

There is a ton to unpack here. It's too long for just one segment or even one show. This is going to carry on for a while longer. 

So let's consider this a start. 

While the use of video monitors might be new, it’s an evolution, not a revolution. According to SI, various Astros personnel told MLB investigators about eight other teams who were using tech to steal signs in 2017 and 2018. 

In August of 2017, the Red Sox won two out of three games in a series against the Yankees at Fenway. And shortly thereafter, they were busted for using a television monitor, an Apple watch, and a series of signals to communicate signs. MLB fined the Red Sox, who also accused the Yankees of doing something similar the previous year, and the Yankees were fined as well.

At that point, in September 2017, Commissioner Rob Manfred told teams to knock it off. He issued a statement telling everyone to stop doing it and that they risked serious punishment if they continued. 

Six days after the warning from Manfred, the Houston Astros, or the Houston Asterisks as some people have glossed them, used the trash can in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

At that point, it was a serious problem. The team had been told not to do it and went ahead and did it anyway. And, according to MLB’s investigation, used their replay room and video monitor improperly “throughout the postseason." A postseason that ended with them beating the Dodgers in the World Series.

And for the record, Luhnow and Hinch aren’t the only people who’ll be punished and the Astros aren’t the only team that will be punished. The Red Sox are also being investigated and the expectation is that manager Alex Cora, who was a bench coach with the Astros, might face an even stiffer punishment than Luhnow and Hinch. 

So the question is, does the punishment fit the crime and did the right people get punished? That’s kind of tricky. Because the commissioner’s report makes it clear that Houston’s operation was set up by Cora and the players, including new Mets manager Carlos Beltran. 

Let me read one of the key excerpts: Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltrán, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter. Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter. (Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.) Players occasionally also used a massage gun to bang the trash can. Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball. Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme.

So it was player-driven and Hinch was not involved. Not only was he not involved, but he physically damaged the monitor on two different occasions to let everyone know he wasn’t okay with it. 

And he is suspended for a year and now fired. That’s not to defend Hinch. As he said in his statement, he didn’t participate in it, but he failed to stop it. And he’s paying a price. A very steep price.

But it’s kind of weird that the guys who were actively involved, the players, don’t appear to be paying a price right now. And might not ever. There could be a lot of reasons – one, that Manfred had made it clear that people in authority positions would be punished and two, that either no players named names or there were too many players to name and discipline. 

Either way, it’s kind of weird that the guys doing the cheating weren’t punished yesterday and probably won’t be punished in the future.  

Here’s something else that isn’t going to happen – they aren’t going to strip the Astros of the World Series and give it to the Dodgers. Nor are they going to strip the Red Sox of theirs and give it to the Dodgers. Just like nobody stripped any PED user of his numbers. That’s not how it works. And it sucks. Dodger fans just have to live with it. And it sucks.  I’ve always said just saying something sucks isn’t a take: but if you’re a Dodger fan, this sucks. Again, if you’re not cheating you’re not trying and it’s only cheating if you get caught. We’ll, they were caught.