Column: MLB commissioner knows Astros cheating scandal has destroyed baseball’s credibility


Because the commissioner’s report was short on details, because the Houston Astros’ apologies sounded half-hearted, because the punishments in Major League Baseball’s sign-stealing scandal were dissatisfying, it was refreshing to finally hear something in unambiguous terms.

The Houston Astros continued to relay stolen signs to batters by banging on trash cans throughout the 2017 postseason, which ended with them defeating the Dodgers in the World Series.

That was the stance of Commissioner Rob Manfred.

The fact wasn’t divulged at Manfred’s news conference Tuesday as much as it was clarified. Manfred’s report stated the Astros cheated in the playoffs that year, but didn’t explicitly say how. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa created further confusion by declaring the trash-can-banging racket was less effective in the postseason because of the elevated crowd noise.


“There was conflicting evidence on that point, but, in an investigation, you often get conflicting evidence,” Manfred said. “And it was in my view that the more credible evidence was that they continued to use the scheme in the postseason.”

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred revealed the Astros banged trash can through the 2017 playoffs and apologized for calling World Series trophy ‘a piece of metal.’

Feb. 18, 2020

Asked whether he could explain how he reached that conclusion, Manfred replied, “Yes, statements from players.”

So that’s that. The Dodgers were cheated and trash cans were involved.

Another day, another detail.

This is what this entire spring has been like, the Astros’ brazen cheating the talk of spring-training camps around baseball despite efforts by teams to look ahead to the upcoming season.

If the story of the day isn’t about a previously unreported element of how the Astros perpetuated their fraud, it’s about what a prominent player had to say about baseball’s version of the New England Patriots.

The developments clearly have worn down Manfred, who looked like a living metaphor for the state of the game.

He looked fatigued. He sounded defeated.

Manfred didn’t have the same vigor he did two days earlier when addressing reporters in Florida’s Grapefruit League. There, he responded sarcastically when asked a question by a Wall Street Journal reporter who obtained a copy of an email the commissioner sent to since-fired Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow about MLB’s discovery of a sign-decoding algorithm developed by the team’s front office.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred takes questions about the Houston Astros while holding his press conference during the "Florida Governor's Dinner" kicking off spring training on Sunday in North Port, Fla.
(Curtis Compton / Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The same day, while dismissing the idea of vacating the Astros’ 2017 championship, Manfred called the World Series trophy a “piece of metal.”

The remark sparked a backlash, with Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner calling him “out of touch.” By the time Manfred reached Arizona, his defiance had been drained out of him.

“I have to say I made one mistake, at least, during that long day,” Manfred said. “In an effort to make a rhetorical point, I referred to the World Series trophy in a disrespectful way. And I want to apologize for that. There’s no excuse for it. I made a mistake. I was trying to make a point, but I should have made it in a more effective way.”

The contrition was an indication Manfred recognized the perilous position in which baseball finds itself.

There was no point in him pushing back. The game was in serious trouble, its credibility in shambles, so much so the players didn’t trust the commissioner or his report.

This wasn’t the time for Manfred to pick a fight.

He responded to criticism about his decision to grant Astros players immunity in exchange for information by explaining how he was practically forced to do so by the players’ union.

Manfred said MLB’s investigation was launched shortly after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers detailed the sign-stealing scheme in a story published by the Athletic. The union said players wouldn’t make themselves available to be interviewed if there was a chance they be subjected to disciplinary action, according to Manfred.


MLB countered by saying it would grant immunity to select players in exchange for their testimonies, only for the union to come back and demand blanket immunity. Manfred said his office had no choice but to give in.

Dodgers infielder Tyler White had some playing time with the Houston Astros in 2017. White is declining to speak in detail about the Astros’ actions.

Feb. 18, 2020

Manfred’s finished report read as if it went out the way to absolve Astros owner Jim Crane, stating in its opening paragraph that the investigation produced “absolutely no evidence” he was aware his team had cheated.

But Manfred was hired by MLB’s 30 owners. How could he be trusted to police them?

“There is no conflict of interest between my disciplinary role and job security,” Manfred said. “I would rather be done with this job than give in to pressure from an individual owner who I felt had done the wrong thing.”

He mentioned how the Astros were fined $5 million and stripped of multiple future draft picks.

Combined, the accusatory questions directed at Manfred painted a picture of a sport that lost the trust of not only the public, but also its players.

“Look, I think that trust is something that has to be earned back,” he said.

He is right. Credibility destroyed by a single scandal will take years to rebuild and there will be more days like this from Manfred.