It’s official: The teams that beat the Dodgers in back-to-back World Series have been branded as cheaters by Major League Baseball.
On Wednesday, three months after sanctioning the 2017 Houston Astros as cheaters, the league cited the Boston Red Sox for the same offense: the illegal use of technology to steal signs.
The sanctions assessed against the Red Sox, however, were far lighter, as the sins committed were judged to be far lighter. The only Red Sox employee punished: an advance scout who doubled as a replay room operator, who was suspended for the 2020 season.
Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora also was suspended for the 2020 season, but the suspension is for his role as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017, not for his conduct as the Boston manager in 2018. The Red Sox also were stripped of their second-round draft pick in 2020.
In his report, Commissioner Rob Manfred said he could not conclude that the Boston cheating extended to the 2018 World Series, in which the Red Sox beat the Dodgers. He said J.T. Watkins, the Boston staffer suspended Wednesday, “used in-game video to decode signs during the 2018 regular season only. The evidence uncovered during the investigation is insufficient to conclude that the conduct continued in the 2018 postseason or 2019 regular season.”
Sam Kennedy, Red Sox president, said in a statement: “As an organization, we strive for 100% compliance with the rules. MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means …
“We apologize to our fans and to Major League Baseball, and accept the commissioner’s ruling.”
In his duties as an advance scout, Watkins worked to decode the signs deployed by opposing teams, an assignment Manfred said was legal before and after games. However, because he was stationed in the replay room during games, for the intended purpose of advising the Red Sox whether to challenge an umpire’s call, Watkins had access to the live broadcast feed.
Watkins provided Boston players with a pregame scouting report that included information on the opposing team’s signs. By viewing the broadcast feed in real time, Watkins could detect an updated sign sequence so that a runner on second base could be alerted, and could in turn alert the batter about what pitch to expect.
Manfred said the information Watkins provided was relevant only when the Red Sox had a runner on second base, which happened in one of every five MLB plate appearances in 2018.
Manfred said the Red Sox front office was “unaware” of Watkins’ scheme, although the commissioner noted that Watkins was a “key participant” in the Apple Watch saga of 2017, when the Red Sox admitted to using a smartphone to communicate decoded signs from the replay room to the dugout. Manfred also said he found that neither Cora nor any of his coaches “knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis.”
Of the 44 current and former Boston players who participated in the MLB investigation, either through in-person interviews or a statement furnished through the players union, Manfred said “more than 30” claimed to have had no knowledge of Watkins’ scheme.
Watkins himself denied it, Manfred said, although the minority of players who noted that Watkins’ reports were different after the game had started “assumed that the revised information came from his review of in-game video.”
Manfred said he did not believe players warranted discipline because they were uncertain about how Watkins obtained his updated scouting information or the MLB rules that governed the use of technology. In addition, as was the case with the Astros investigation, Manfred had promised immunity to players in exchange for their testimony.
“Even if I were not so bound,” Manfred said, “I do not believe that the Red Sox players who suspected that Watkins used game feeds to decode sign sequences should be held responsible for his conduct.”
Manfred did not strip the Red Sox of their 2018 title, just as he did not strip the Astros of their 2017 title.
The last year the Dodgers won the World Series remains 1988. Although the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to ask MLB to award both titles to the Dodgers, the Dodgers players had no interest in a championship that the team did not win on the field.
“We don’t want a fake banner hanging in our stadium,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “We didn’t earn that.”
In the case of the Astros, Manfred fined the team $5 million, deprived them of four top draft picks and suspended manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for one year. Astros owner Jim Crane then fired Hinch and Luhnow.
At the time, Manfred said Cora would be punished as a ringleader of the Astros’ cheating scheme. However, because Cora had been hired as manager of the Red Sox following the 2017 World Series, Manfred said he would defer a decision on what Cora’s punishment would be until the completion of the Red Sox investigation.
The Red Sox nonetheless fired Cora one day after Manfred released his report on the Astros.
The Astros have been trashed by rival players not only because of their sins, but also because shortstop Carlos Correa still insisted the team won the 2017 World Series “fair and square,” and because Crane suggested the cheating might not have made a difference, saying, “I don’t think I should be held accountable.”
For the Astros’ first visit to Anaheim this season, close to 3,000 fans bought tickets from a Dodgers fan group to boo the Astros. The Astros were not scheduled to play the Dodgers this season.
That game has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the entire 2020 season is called off, Cora, Hinch and Luhnow could serve their suspensions this year and return to baseball next year without missing a game.