Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were fired by owner Jim Crane on Monday after Major League Baseball’s announcement of discipline following the sign-stealing scandal.
A league investigation confirmed the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based sign-stealing system during the regular season and playoffs of their World Series-winning 2017 season and during part of the 2018 regular season.
Luhnow and Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season, but Crane said the team wanted to go beyond that ruling.
“Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it,” Crane said.
He added: “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”
Crane said that he did not think the Astros’ World Series title in 2017 was “tainted.”
As part of the league’s penalty, the Astros will also lose first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021, and the organization was fined a record $5 million. MLB said in its statement that if Luhnow or Hinch “engage in any future material violations” of MLB rules, they will be placed on the league’s permanently ineligible list.
Crane gave no timetable for naming replacements for Luhnow and Hinch.
Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was implicated in the schemes, was not disciplined but is expected to receive a similarly harsh penalty upon the completion of an investigation into illicit use of a video replay room by the 2018 Red Sox. Cora was the Astros’ bench coach during the 2017 season.
While the scheme to steal signs and relay them to batters by banging on a garbage can was “player-driven,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred wrote in a nine-page summary of the investigation that no players were disciplined — including New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the 2017 Astros and was implicated by Manfred as one of the players involved in decoding signs. Manfred wrote that disciplining individual players was “impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other Clubs.”
The Mets and Beltran declined to comment, spokesman Harold Kaufman said.
Crane also said that players will not be disciplined. MLB’s investigation found that Crane was unaware of the sign-stealing activities by his team.
In a statement Monday, Lunhow accepted responsibility for the sign-stealing happening on his watch but maintained that he’s “not a cheater.”
“I did not know rules were being broken…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 also apologized and accepted responsibility in another statement issued Monday.
“While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign stealing practices,” the statement read, “I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry.”
The league discipline is among the harshest ever delivered by a commissioner, with Luhnow and Hinch banned until the day after the final game of the 2020 World Series despite neither having involvement with the scheme — and Hinch twice protesting by trying to damage the monitor used in the scheme. Manfred nevertheless held the two responsible, citing 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.”
The commissioner also pointed to a Sept. 15, 2017, memo regarding the Red Sox’s illicit use of an Apple Watch that promised severe discipline for teams that run afoul of MLB’s rules against using technology during games.
The scheme itself, Manfred wrote, began in 2017 and evolved throughout the course of the season. After initially using video-replay personnel to decode the opposing catcher’s signs via a center-field camera and relaying the information to the bench via phone or text message, Cora “arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout,” according to the report. Players watched the camera live and, upon decoding the sign, hit the trash can with a bat — and sometimes a Theragun — to signal to the hitter which pitch was coming. Initially, they had tried clapping, whistling or yelling, Manfred wrote, but players determined the trash can was the best use of relaying the sign.
While the banging scheme was discontinued before the 2018 season, Manfred wrote, “the Astros’ replay review room staff continued, at least for part of the 2018 season, to decode signs using the live center field camera feed, and to transmit the signs to the dugout through in-person communication.” That practice ended during the 2018 season when players believed it was no longer effective.
The investigation, which found no use of illicit technology during the 2019 season, was initiated after former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic of the scheme for a story published in November.
No World Series odds changed as a result of the Astros’ punishment at Caesars Sportsbook, as no players were suspended. Houston remains tied for second-best odds at 6-1 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The New York Yankees are favorites at 4-1.
Also Monday, former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman was suspended through the World Series for his conduct during last year’s AL Championship Series, when his profane remarks directed at female reporters led to his firing by Houston, which at first denied the incident and later apologized.
Taubman can apply to Manfred for reinstatement after the World Series, and any future violations of Major League Rules would lead to a lifetime ban.
In referencing the Taubman investigation, Manfred noted that the investigation led him to have concerns about the Astros’ baseball operations in general. “While no one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analytics,” Manfred wrote, “it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other Clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic.”
He added that the culture of the Houston baseball operations department led “to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.