MLB suspends Houston Astros GM, manager for sign-stealing in 2017 World Series

A.J. Hinch, manager of the Houston Astros, during a regular season game on May 31, 2019. (Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)(HOUSTON) -- Major League Baseball handed down stiff penalties to the Houston Astros organization on Monday for stealing signs during its 2017 World Series win against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for one year. MLB’s ruling also forces the Astros to forfeit their first and second-round draft picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB drafts, according to an announcement from the league on Monday. Shortly after the release of the report, the Astros fired Luhnow and Hinch, the team announced.

"I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline. 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," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Monday.

"The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB Clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated. And while it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game," Manfred added.

The Astros will also be fined $5 million as well, which is the maximum allowed under current MLB rules.

MLB's investigation, which covered a period starting in 2016 until today, began following a November 2019 article by The Athletic that the Astros engaged in sign-stealing.

The Astros, according to MLB, began using live game footage from the center field camera in an attempt to decode the opposing team's sign sequence from the catcher and pitcher when an Astros player was on second base. This would give a batter the advantage of knowing the pitch type, significantly increasing his chances for a hit.

"Once the sign sequence was decoded, a player in the video replay review room would act as a 'runner' to relay the information to the dugout, and a person in the dugout would notify the players in the dugout or signal the sign sequence to the runner on second base, who in turn would decipher the catcher’s sign and signal to the batter from second base," MLB's report on the investigation said.

Alex Cora, who is now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017. MLB's report said after the sign-stealing operation started, Cora began to call the replay room on the replay phone to obtain sign-stealing information. On multiple occasions, MLB said, employees in the replay room sent sign-stealing information to staff members' smartwatches or phones on the bench.

The Astros' sign-stealing operation advanced when players, including current New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, went to Cora with a way to improve sign-stealing.

MLB said Cora arranged for a monitor displaying the center field camera feed to be placed immediately outside of the Astros' dugout, which was allowed by MLB rules at the time. The feed, which was supposed to be used for "player development purposes," was instead used by the Astros to set up the sign-stealing operation.

Players, MLB said, would watch TV with the center field feed, decode the signs and then bang on a trash can with a bat to alert the batter as to what pitch was coming.

"Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball," MLB said. "Witnesses consistently described the scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme."

Cora, who is facing similar allegations during his current tenure as Red Sox manager, was not handed a punishment Monday by MLB, but one is expected.

"I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI [Department of Investigations] completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager," Manfred wrote in his report Monday. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2018 .

During its investigation, MLB said it interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players. MLB said it also reviewed "tens of thousands" of emails, Slack messages, texts, video clips and photographs.

Trying to decode a catcher’s signs is not illegal, according to MLB rules, so long as no outside or electronic equipment is used. In 2017, MLB issued a warning to all 30 teams that sign-stealing would not be tolerated. The Astros, Manfred said, deliberately ignored MLB’s orders.

"The Astros continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the postseason," the MLB report said.

MLB said the Astros stopped using the sign-stealing scheme at some point during the 2018 season and did not use it during the 2018 playoff nor at any point in the 2019 season.

While Hinch and Luhnow were not the masterminds or organizers of the sign-stealing, MLB said it had to hold those at the top accountable.

“Regardless of the level of Luhnow’s actual knowledge, the Astros’ violation of rules in 2017 and 2018 is attributable, in my view, to a failure by the leaders of the baseball operations department and the field manager to adequately manage the employees under their supervision, to establish a culture in which adherence to the rules is ingrained in the fabric of the organization, and to stop bad behavior as soon as it occurred,” Manfred said in his report.

Manfred said he is not suspending any players involved because it would be "impractical," given many players are with different teams and it’s difficult to determine "with a degree of certainty" who should be held accountable.

The Astros organization and its baseball operations were previously under the spotlight last year when then-assistant general manager Brandon Taubman reportedly made threatening comments to a group of female sports reporters.

The year before, the Astros acquired Roberto Osuna, while he was serving a 75-game suspension for domestic violence.

Taubman, following playoff game against the New York Yankees in October 2019, reportedly turned toward a group of female reporters in the clubhouse and said several times, "Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f------ glad we got Osuna!" Sports Illustrated reported. He was fired not long after the allegations became public.

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