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Here’s everything in MLB’s case against the Astros

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 1/13/2020 Dennis Young

Alex Cora holding a baseball bat © Bob Levey Baseball brought the hammer on the Astros. But while it suspended GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch a year each, it says that the team’s sign-stealing was, outside of then-bench coach Alex Cora, “player-driven and player-executed.” Commissioner Rob Manfred released the MLB investigation’s findings in a ten-page memo under his name. 

No players were punished, although the report suggests that now-Mets manager Carlos Beltran was a key part of the cheating. Cora was the highest-level employee to be directly involved. He’ll certainly receive a stiff punishment — maybe even end up fired like Luhnow and Hinch — but Manfred is waiting to punish Cora until a parallel Red Sox investigation concludes.

According to the investigation, Luhnow is being punished for turning a blind eye to the cheating. “The investigation revealed no evidence to suggest that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme,” MLB says. “The investigation also revealed that Luhnow neither devised nor actively directed the efforts of the replay review room staff to decode signs in 2017 or 2018.”

MLB didn’t really care how much Luhnow knew, and punished him for his failure to control the organization. “While Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs," Manfred writes, "there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.”

Hinch is being punished for something slightly different. He appeared to be aware of the cheating, and against it, but he failed to report it to his bosses.

“Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement,” according to MLB. (As a reminder, the way the Astros’ “banging scheme” worked is that the center field camera feed was sent to a monitor near the dugout, and an employee would bang on a trash can signaling what pitch was coming.)

“However, Hinch admits he did not stop it and he did not notify players or Cora that he disapproved of it, even after the Red Sox were disciplined in September 2017,” Manfred writes. This is a key part of MLB’s harsh punishment: after the Red Sox were punished for a stupid smart watch scandal, Manfred sent out reminders of what technology was permitted. Luhnow “did not forward” the information, “and did not confirm that players and staff were in compliance.”

No players were punished, and Cora hasn’t been punished yet, although he’ll likely receive a stiff penalty when a similar investigation into his Red Sox teams concludes.

“Many of the players who were interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong,” according to the report. “Players stated that if Manager A.J. Hinch told them to stop engaging in the conduct, they would have immediately stopped.”

While the front office is ultimately responsible for letting the scheme operate, the investigation concludes that Cora and then-DH Carlos Beltran were crucial to it.

“Early in [2017], Cora began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information. On at least some occasions, the employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence information by text message, which was received on the smart watch of a staff member on the bench, or in other cases on a cell phone stored nearby,” the report explains.

But this system didn’t work very well. Two months into the 2017 season, “a group of players including Beltran” came up with the trash can set up, and Cora executed it. The trash can would be banged with a bat or a “massage gun" for off-speed pitches, no bang for fastball.

The trash can system stopped in 2018, but the report found that the other setup was briefly used in that regular season before they stopped because “players no longer believed it was effective."

The report says that the players operated freely in front of Hinch and Luhnow, but were worried about their opponents. “Several players told my investigators that there was a sense of ‘panic’ in the Astros’ dugout after White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar appeared to notice the trash can bangs,” Manfred wrote.

The report also takes a brief detour to criticize the Astros and punish former assistant GM Brandon Taubman, who mocked and berated a writer for tweeting a domestic abuse hotline when closer Roberto Osuna entered games. “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,” Manfred wrote. “At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture — one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led, at least in part, to the Brandon Taubman incident, the Club’s admittedly inappropriate and inaccurate response to that incident, and finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”

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