Houston Astros owner Jim Crane announced Monday he’d fired Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch after both were suspended without pay for the 2020 season by Major League Baseball for their part in the sign-stealing scandal that has rocked the sport.
“We need to move forward with a clean slate,” Crane said.
The Astros have also been fined $5 million – the highest fine allowed in the sport – and must forfeit its first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts.
Former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman, fired in October for making insensitive comments to female journalists, has also been suspended for one year. The suspensions begin immediately and end the day following the 2020 World Series.
According to the mlb.com, Luhnow and Hinch were initially prohibited from performing business on behalf of the Astros. They will not be allowed in any Major League, Minor League or Spring Training facilities – including stadiums. If they should land other jobs, and engage any future violations of MLB rules, they run the risk of being placed on the permanently ineligible list.
“I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said as part of the nine-page ruling. “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.
“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.”
According to The Athletic, the suspension of Hinch, one of the most highly regarded managers in the game, is the longest for a MLB manager since Pete Rose was banned for life for cheating in 1989.
While Manfred said Hinch was aware of the system, he admitted the manager did not bring it to the attention of Luhnow. Manfred still held Luhnow accountable.
In a statement released Monday, Luhnow accepted responsibility for the sign-stealing but claimed he wasn’t a cheater.
“I did not know rules were being broken. As the Commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct…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.”
MLB also ruled there was no evidence proving team owner Jim Crane had any hand in the planning or execution of the illegal sign stealing.
“Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested,” Manfred said.
The illegal sign-stealing was apparently set up by former Astros bench coach, and current Red Sox manager, Alex Cora. At this point, Cora has not been disciplined, but he could face penalties once the ongoing investigation into allegations of illegal sign-stealing by the Red Sox during the 2018 season is completed.
ESPN reported Monday that Cora should expect harsh penalties when the time comes. It’s possible the Red Sox could decide to move on from him, as well.
MLB has been looking to situation since The Athletic quoted former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers about indiscretions regarding stealing signs during the team’s World Championship season in 2017.
“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers, who was with the team from 2015-17, told The Atheltic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”
Fiers claimed the Astros used a camera positioned in the outfield to detect the signs, which were relayed to hitters by banging on a trash can in an area between the dugout and the clubhouse.
“The allegations in the article created significant concern among many of our fans and other MLB Clubs regarding the adherence to our rules by those participating in our games, and the principles of sportsmanship and fair competition,” Manfred said in the ruling. “As I have previously stated, I treat these allegations with the utmost seriousness, and I instructed our Department of Investigations to conduct a thorough investigation. I believe transparency with our fans and our Clubs regarding what occurred is extremely important, and this report is my attempt to achieve that objective.”
MLB decided not to discipline any players, even though former Astros player, and current Mets manager, Carlos Beltran, apparently worked in cahoots with Cora to set up the system.
“Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical,” Manfred wrote. “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.
“It is impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other clubs.”
The Astros are expected to name current bench coach Joe Espada as their interim manager.