On Monday afternoon, Major League Baseball announced penalties to the Houston Astros, manager AJ Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow. Hinch and Luhnow were swiftly relieved of their duties by Astros owner Jim Crane following the announcement. The Astros organization was fined a league record $5 million, and they will forfeit first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft.
On the surface, it appears that an extensive investigation was conducted and the penalties handed down by MLB are harsh. It is clear that the Astros cheated, but don’t be fooled by the baseball dropping the hammer on the scapegoats.
What the ‘Stros did is significantly different than the gamesmanship involved in picking up a pitchers tell, recognizing catcher signs independently at second base, or identifying an indicator from the third base coach. The Astros used technology to get a unique viewpoint, which no player or coach had on the field. They then relayed information about catcher signals to the hitter in order to tell the batter what pitch was coming in real time. That is the key. I don’t have a problem with teams using technology to their advantage; study pitchers, watch a third base coaches tendencies, whatever; but it can’t happen in real time.
The report clearly indicates that Hinch was aware of the situation. He looked the other way, instead of taking the moral high ground, and arrogantly scoffed when being accused of the exact things that he is now being punished for.
The Astros were penalized with the loss of their top two draft picks over the next two years, which is significant, but they escape with minimal damage beyond that. Both Hinch and Luhnow signed new contracts after winning the 2017 World Series. They will likely see very little, if any, of the money remaining in those contracts, which makes the $5 million owed to baseball negligible. The Astros also do not lose any of their International pool money, meaning they can remain relevant and sign young players, just not in the first two rounds of the draft.
Hinch becomes only the third person to receive a suspension of this length in the last century. Leo Durocher was suspended for one year in 1947 for a slew of moral blemishes, and most famously Pete Rose was banned for life after betting on baseball.
Major League Baseball’s report portrays owner Jim Crane as being oblivious to the on field actions of his team by saying “Astros owner Jim Crane and his senior executive team spent their energies focused on running the business side of the Club while delegating control and discretion on the baseball side to Luhnow.”
I believe that Crane could be unaware of the cheating, but this is his franchise. If MLB thinks this scandal is egregious enough to levy one of the most profound suspensions in league history, then the owner should be taking the bulk of the punishment. Instead, he gets to save face and point the finger at people he hired, while essentially losing four draft picks, who may or may not ever reach the big leagues.
The report specifically names and details the roles played by Hinch, Luhnow, Bench Coach and current Red Sox Head Coach Alex Cora, and Assistant GM Brandon Taubman. However, it also states that “witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven.” What is extremely ironic is that there is only one player mentioned in the entire report; newly appointed New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran. There are no current players mentioned despite it being a significant aspect of the games and clubhouse.
In the report Rob Manfred writes, “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.” So instead, the players who drove this ship, get to walk away blissfully ignorant.
At the same time the commissioner is unabashedly confident that “Jim Crane was unaware of any of the violations of MLB rules by his Club,” despite allegations and word around the league that told a different story.
It seems extremely convenient for MLB to drop the hammer on managers and GM’s, while players and owners get a slap on the wrist, if anything. It is a player driven league; they sell the tickets and the owners control the messaging sent to fans. Rob Manfred has presented this scandal as one of the most serious in the history of the game, coupled with punishments that match the idea. But when you really look at it, a few people are going to take the hit, while the guy at the top of the food chain (Crane) and the guys who fill his pockets (the players) walk away unscathed.
To be clear, the individuals mentioned in the commissioners report were certainly in the wrong. They should be punished, but they shouldn’t be scapegoats.