HOUSTON — The Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal cost manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs, and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora could be next.
Hinch and Luhnow were fired Monday after being suspended by Major League Baseball for the team’s illicit use of electronics to steal signs during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season.
In U.S. sports’ largest scandal since the New England Patriots’ “Spygate,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the discipline and strongly hinted that Cora — the Astros bench coach in 2017 — will face equal or more severe punishment. Manfred said Cora developed the sign-stealing system used by the Astros. The Red Sox are under investigation for stealing signs in Cora’s first season as manager in 2018, when Boston won the World Series.
Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, as punishment. The Astros will also forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.
The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.
Sign stealing is a legal and time-honored part of baseball as long as it is done with the naked eye — say, by a baserunner standing on second. Using technology is prohibited.
“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 said.
Manfred, in his most significant action since becoming commissioner five years ago, said Hinch failed to stop the sign stealing and Luhnow was responsible for the players’ conduct even though he made the dubious claim he was not aware. Manfred said owner Jim Crane was not informed.
An hour after MLB announced its punishment, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow were fired.
“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I’m going above and beyond MLB’s penalty,” he said. “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”
Both Luhnow’s and Hinch’s suspensions for the 2020 season were to be without pay. Crane said he will look outside the organization and internally for candidates to replace Luhnow. If he hires internally, the most likely candidate would be Pete Putila, who was promoted to assistant general manager this offseason.
Houston was a big league-best 204-120 during the two years in question, winning its first title.
Luhnow said in a statement that he accepts responsibility “for rules violations that occurred on my watch as president of baseball operations and general manager of the Astros” and apologized to the team and fans for “the shame and embarrassment this has caused.”
Then Luhnow defended himself.
“I am not a cheater,’’ the statement said. “Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. I did not know rules were being broken.”