Astros fire manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow in wake of MLB punishment
Any doubts that the Houston Astros illegally used technology to steal signs during the 2017 season, which culminated with them beating the Dodgers in the World Series, were put to rest Monday upon Major League Baseball revealing the results of its investigation into the allegations.
The question is no longer if the Astros cheated. It’s to what extent did the cheating help them topple the Dodgers in seven games.
In a detailed nine-page report outlining an investigation into the sign-stealing allegations, commissioner Rob Manfred said general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season. Shortly after the penalty was levied, Astros owner Jim Crane announced he had fired Luhnow and Hinch.
The Astros were also fined $5 million — the highest fine possible under MLB rules — and will forfeit their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
Whether the Astros benefited from their rule-breaking arrangement to beat the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series remains unclear. In the report, Manfred mentioned that Hinch allowed the practice “throughout the 2017 Postseason,” but that is the only mention of the playoffs. The Astros won two of three games at home during the series, and enjoyed particular success against Dodgers starting pitchers Yu Darvish in Game 3 and Clayton Kershaw in Game 5.
Various members of the 2017 Dodgers, including president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts, have said the team took extra precautions to conceal signs during the series. Neither Friedman nor Roberts could be reached for comment Monday.
The Dodgers, however, issued a statement saying that “all clubs have been asked by Major League Baseball not to comment on today’s punishment of the Houston Astros as it’s inappropriate to comment on discipline imposed on another club. The Dodgers have also been asked not to comment on any wrongdoing during the 2017 World Series and will have no further comment at this time.”
Both teams that beat the Dodgers — the Houston Astros in 2017 and Boston Red Sox in 2018 — are under investigation for allegedly stealing signs.
In a video posted on his YouTube channel, Darvish, now a member of the Chicago Cubs, said he wondered if the league would strip the Astros of their championship, but maintained that he wouldn’t want the outcome of the World Series altered.
“Regardless of what the Astros did, there were pitchers who weren’t hit by them,” Darvish said in Japanese. “So I still wouldn’t want to change the results of the World Series. It’s something that was important in my life. It did feel good to hear from Dodgers fans, but I am the person I am now and I have the life that I have now because I was able to overcome that. So I don’t need an apology and I haven’t thought very deeply about that.”
The league launched its investigation after pitcher Mike Fiers, who played for the Astros in 2017, told the Athletic the team had stolen signs using a center-field camera that fed pictures to a television monitor behind the dugout, which would violate rules on how technology can be used during games.
The system, according to the MLB report, began in 2017 with bench coach Alex Cora receiving signs from the team’s replay review room via text message. Two months into the season, Cora and a group of Astros players developed a system to better communicate catchers’ signs directly to a batter. A person would bang a trash can to indicate the forthcoming pitch type. One or two bangs usually meant an offspeed pitch. Silence signaled a fastball.
MLB established that Hinch did not devise or participate in the scheme, but warranted punishment because he knew of the cheating and did not stop it. Luhnow, according to the report, denied being involved, but evidence suggested that he was at least aware of the illegal practice.
“I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline,” Manfred said in a statement. “I base this finding on the fact that the Club’s senior baseball operations executives were given express notice in September 2017 that I would hold them accountable for violations of our policies covering sign stealing, and those individuals took no action to ensure that the Club’s players and staff complied with those policies during the 2017 Postseason and the 2018 regular season.”
Cora — now manager of the Boston Red Sox — was accused of creating the team’s sign-stealing system with players, but he will face punishment after MLB concludes investigating whether Boston similarly broke rules under Cora’s watch in 2018. Like the 2017 Astros, the 2018 Red Sox defeated the Dodgers to win the World Series.
Manfred decided not to punish players individually, but mentioned Carlos Beltrán, now manager of the New York Mets, as one of the players behind the scheme.
“Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical,” Manfred stated. “It is difficult because virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable, or their relative degree of culpability. It is impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other Clubs.”
Crane also declined to punish Astros players, but moved swiftly to fire Luhnow and Hinch.
“Neither one of those guys implemented this or pushed it through the system... but neither one of them did anything about it,” Crane said. “That’s unfortunate and the consequences are severe. . . . We need to move forward with a clean slate.”
Major League Baseball came down hard on three members of the Houston Astros. But when it came to the players who carried out the cheating scheme, MLB whiffed.
In a statement, Luhnow said he accepts responsibility, but insisted he did not know rules were being broken. He placed the blame on Cora, players, and “lower-level” employees.
“I am not a cheater,” Luhnow said. “The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach. I am deeply upset that I wasn’t informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.”
Hinch, however, took personal responsibility, saying in a statement: “As a leader and Major League Manager, it is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way. While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sigh-stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry.”
While the Astros’ activity is the most blatant and elaborate illegal use of technology uncovered thus far, the problem has been simmering across baseball in recent years.
In September 2017, Manfred reiterated to clubs in a memo that using technology to decode signs was illegal after the Red Sox and New York Yankees were disciplined for breaking the rules. He warned that managers and general managers would be held responsible and dealt severe penalties for the activity.
That did not stop the Astros. A month and a half later, on November 1, they celebrated winning their first World Series at Dodger Stadium.
Times columnist Dylan Hernandez contributed to this report.
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