Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were each suspended without pay for the 2020 season by Major League Baseball, which on Monday released the findings from its investigation into Houston’s sign-stealing allegations.
Afterwards in a news conference at Minute Maid Park in Houston, owner Jim Crane announced that Luhnow and Hinch were dismissed.
“There are two very important points I want to make today: I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I am going above and beyond MLB’s penalty,” Crane said. “Today, I have made the decision to dismiss AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow. We need to move forward with a clean slate, and the Astros will become a stronger organization because of this today.”
Houston also forfeits its first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts as part of the penalties. In addition, the Astros were fined $5 million, which is the highest allowable fine under the Major League Constitution.
In addition, former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman, who was dismissed by the club in October after he made offensive and insensitive comments directed at a group of female reporters at the conclusion of the American League Championship Series on Oct. 19, 2019, “shall be ineligible to perform services on behalf of any Major League club, either as an employee or independent contractor.”
The suspensions of Luhnow and Hinch are to begin immediately, ending on the day following the completion of the 2020 World Series. Taubman, who is currently not employed by a Major League club, will be eligible to apply for reinstatement at that same end time as well.
“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.”
Should either Luhnow or Hinch be found to engage in “any future material violations” of Major League rules in the future, the offender will be placed on the permanently ineligible list.
During the suspension, the Commissioner’s Office will discuss with Luhnow “an appropriate program of management/leadership training to ensure that no incidents of the type described” in the report will occur in the future.
According to the ruling, the investigation revealed “absolutely no evidence” that Astros owner Jim Crane was aware of any of the team’s conduct.
“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 report says that the illegal sign-stealing was mostly player-driven, though it states that former bench coach Alex Cora, who is now the manager of the Red Sox, was involved in setting it up. Cora was not disciplined as part of this investigation, but the report states that he could face penalties at the conclusion of the ongoing investigation into allegations of illegal sign-stealing by the Red Sox during the 2018 season.
There were no penalties given to any Astros players as part of the investigation, though Mets manager Carlos Beltrán — who was a DH/outfielder on the 2017 Astros — was mentioned in the report as one of the players involved in the illegal sign-stealing. In explaining why no players would face any discipline, Commissioner Manfred wrote the following:
“Assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical. 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.”
MLB began its investigation into the allegations against the Astros back in November after a report from The Athletic highlighted the club’s illegal sign-stealing system from 2017, the year the Astros won the franchise’s first World Series title. A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, who was a member of the Astros at the time, was quoted in the story, as were three other unnamed sources who were inside the organization in 2017.
Fiers said the Astros were using a camera positioned in the outfield to detect the signs, which were then relayed to hitters by somebody banging on a trash can in an area between the dugout and the clubhouse so they knew which pitches were coming.
“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.”
The Astros have been fully cooperative with MLB during its investigation, which involved the interviewing of more than 60 witnesses, including players, field staff, and front office personnel who were with club in 2017. The league has also been combing through more than 70,000 e-mails during its investigation, as well as text messages.
MLB opened a new investigation last week after The Athletic reported that the Red Sox had used their video/replay room during the 2018 season to learn opponents’ sign sequences, a strict violation of Manfred’s September 2017 edict on the subject.