MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred defends his punishment of the Houston Astros
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred had some words of warning for pitchers seeking retribution against the Houston Astros for their illegal sign-stealing scheme that aided their 2017 World Series championship.
It was delivered Sunday to the managers of the 15 Florida-based teams and will be repeated Tuesday when Manfred meets the managers of the 15 Arizona-based teams.
“I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated, whether it’s Houston or anybody else,” Manfred said during a news conference at CoolToday Park, the new spring-training home of the Atlanta Braves. “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.”
That’s some tough talk from a commissioner who has been taking heat for being far too lenient on Astros players, who were granted immunity from punishment in exchange for their testimony and allowed to keep their tainted World Series trophy.
While players such as Dodgers star Cody Bellinger and Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer have been lobbing verbal grenades at the Astros, and Houston shortstop Carlos Correa has been fighting back with fusillades, Manfred did not elude the shrapnel.
Numerous current and former players called his punishment “weak,” criticism that was not lost on a commissioner who insists the scorn heaped upon the Astros, along with the firing of three managers and one general manager in the wake of the scandal, will brand them for life.
Disappointment and anger was prevalent in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch. Cody Bellinger’s reaction was strongest to the Astros’ scandal.
“I’m more than prepared to tolerate and listen to the debate and criticism about whether or not the punishments levied in this case were sufficient,” Manfred said. “The one thing I do take issue with is the notion that anybody in the Houston organization escaped without punishment.
“If you look at the faces of the Houston players as they’re publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this. They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives, and frankly, it’s rare for any offense that you have a punishment you will live with for the rest of your life.”
Manfred announced in January his discipline of the Astros after an investigation revealed that throughout 2017 and for part of 2018, video room staffers used a center-field camera to steal signs from the catcher. Those signs were relayed to batters in real time by banging on a trash can at the base of the dugout steps.
Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended by MLB for the 2020 season without pay and then fired by the team. The Astros were stripped of four high draft picks and slapped with a $5-million fine.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, a driving force behind the sign-stealing scheme when he was Houston’s bench coach in 2017, and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, a participant in the scheme as a veteran Astros outfielder in 2017, also were fired.
Manfred said he seriously considered stripping the Astros of the 2017 title but listed several reasons for ultimately deciding against it.
“First, it had never happened in baseball, and I’m a precedent guy,” Manfred said. “Second, I believe the most fundamental obligation was to get the facts, put them out there and let people make their own judgment as to what happened in the 2017 season and playoffs.
“Whether or not you put an asterisk next to it or ask for the trophy back, I don’t think it makes that much difference. Once you go down that road of changing what happens on the field, I just don’t know how you decide where to stop.”
Manfred said he expects an investigation into allegations that the Red Sox used electronic devices to steal signs in 2018 to be completed by the end of next week.
Astros owner Jim Crane came across as an out-of-touch plutocrat used to people telling him they agree with whatever nonsense comes out of his mouth.
He also said he is in discussions with the players union about further restricting access to video during games. Hitters and pitchers routinely check replays during games for pitch execution and location.
“I do expect that we will have really serious restrictions on player and [coaching] personnel access to video in-game,” Manfred said. “I think it’s very important for us to send a message to fans that not only did we investigate and punish, but we altered our policies in a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
But does Manfred really think the punishments he meted out were severe enough to make sure this doesn’t happen again?
“Yeah, I do,” Manfred said. “For perspective, you have four really respected baseball people — Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Hinch, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran — who lost their jobs over this. That’s a pretty serious deterrent.
“On the players’ side, I don’t think there’s a player in Major League Baseball who relishes the idea of being a 2017 Houston Astro out there answering questions about exactly what happened and why it happened.”
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