Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and coach AJ Hinch were both suspended for a year by Major League Baseball (MLB) and then fired by club owner Jim Crane on Monday in connection with the cheating scandal by signal theft of which the team is accused.
After a long investigation into the actions of the finalist team of the last World Series, MLB has unveiled an impressive list of sanctions against the Texas team. Luhnow and Hinch were therefore to be sidelined from team activities for the whole of 2020 and not receive a salary. However, Crane settled their case within minutes of the announcement of those penalties by showing them the way out.
“I have the highest standards for the city and the organization, and I will go beyond MLB’s decision to fire AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow,” Crane said at the start of his press conference. We have to evolve from a clean slate and the Astros will become a stronger organization because of this decision. You can be assured that we will make the right decisions and that this situation will not happen again as long as I am in office.
“When I found out, I was really disappointed. We don’t want to be a team that is known to cheat and we accept the consequences. […] Neither of them implemented this system, but they did nothing to remedy it,” continued Crane, who adds, however, that the two men also brought a lot of positive to the organization.
Additionally, the Astros are losing their first- and second-round picks for the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts. Ultimately, the team was fined $5 million, the maximum amount allowed by the league’s collective agreement.
« I have concluded that the conduct of the Astros and their baseball operations warranted meaningful disciplinary action, » MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a nine-page manifesto. This decision is based on the urgent notice issued in September 2017, that I held them liable for violations of our rules on signal theft. The individuals involved have made no changes to ensure the club’s players and staff adjust through the 2017 playoffs and the 2018 regular season. »
“The conduct described above has caused fans, players, managers of other MLB teams and members of the media to now question the actions of the Astros since that time. If it is impossible to determine if this conduct had an impact on the field, the perception that one draws from it is highly damaging for the sport.
Luhnow denies being involved
The ousted GM responded to Major League Baseball’s findings in a statement. If he says he accepts « responsibility for the breach of regulations », he affirms « not to be a cheater ».
« Anyone who has worked with me over my 32-year career in and out of baseball can say I have integrity, » Luhnow said. I didn’t know that any rules were broken. As the commissioner said in his statement, I did not directly direct, regulate or be involved in any misconduct. […] I am really angry that I was not informed of any misconduct, because I would have had them arrested.”
Taubman and Cora also involved
Former Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was also suspended for a year after he was already out of a job due to derogatory comments he made during the most recent playoffs. After a home win, Taubman touted controversial pitcher Roberto Osuna to three women wearing purple domestic violence awareness bracelets; in 2018, Osuna was suspended for 75 games by Major League Baseball, after allegations of abuse against the mother of his 3-year-old child.
The current manager of the Boston Red Sox, Alex Cora, who was, at the time of the facts, the bench instructor of the Astros, is also mentioned by the conclusions of the investigation. While not currently subject to any suspensions or fines, the report acknowledges Cora’s involvement in the development of the signal-stealing system. Crane confirmed that no player would be subject to sanctions.
To complete their investigation, Major League Baseball officials interviewed 60 witnesses, including players, staff and office workers who were with the team in 2017. In addition, more than 70,000 emails were received. also been combed through.
The Astros’ long cheating process
The actions of the Houston Astros are not new. The Texas formation stole signals from opposing teams for three years, but the idea was not born overnight.
In an interview with The Athletic, Mike Fiers, an Astros pitcher from 2015 to 2017, now with the Oakland A’s, tells how it all went down.
An idea taking shape
According to media reports, at least two members of the organization were involved. They would have planned the whole project thanks to their technical knowledge of video, among other things.
The beginning of cheating
The Astros set up a television near their bench, connected to the camera set up in the center field bleachers, and studied signs from the opposing team. When they thought they had decoded everything, they warned their teammates.
The many ways to warn the batter
AJ Hinch’s squad had to use their imagination to warn their hitters of the pitches they were about to receive. Among other things, the team whistled or clapped their hands on the bench. She also hit a trash can with a stick. She even used light signals while a member of the organization was in the left field stands.
The successes of the Astros
Although the Texas team can benefit from this form of cheating only in local games, they have been able to be one of the best teams in MLB in each of these seasons. In three years, the Astros have consistently passed the 100-win mark in the regular season, making the playoffs in each of them. They won the World Series in 2017 and failed at the same stage in 2019.
The first charges
Several teams had heard of the Astros’ actions. Oakland first reported hearing tapping from the Houston bench in 2018. During the playoffs that same year, the Cleveland Indians filed a complaint against an Astros employee who was trying to film inside their dugout. During the post-season playoffs this year, the Yankees in turn reported hearing a whistle from the opposing bench when playing at Minute Maid Park.