Astros hit with huge penalties for cheating during World Series winning season

Tom Lutz
<span>Photograph: David J Phillip/AP</span>
Photograph: David J Phillip/AP

The Houston Astros have been hit with a series of huge penalties after a Major League Baseball investigation concluded the club cheated during their 2017 World Series winning season.

The Astros’ manager, AJ Hinch, and general manager, Jeff Luhnow, have been suspended for a year while the club have been fined $5m and deprived of their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

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Shortly after the punishments were handed down, the Astros announced they had fired Hinch and Luhnow. “When I found out, I was very upset. We want to be known as playing by the rules,” the club’s owner, Jim Crane, said. “Neither one of those guys implemented this or pushed it through the system ... but neither one of them did anything about it. That’s unfortunate and the consequences are severe.”

Related: Houston Astros cheating probe widens to almost 60 witnesses, 76,000 emails

MLB’s investigation found the team had used technology to gain an unfair advantage by stealing signs from opponents during the 2017 season, when they won their first-ever World Series. MLB said that if Hinch or Luhnow “engage in any future material violations” the pair face a permanent ban from baseball. The MLB commissioner, Rob Manfred, said Hinch was aware of the sign stealing system but did not bring it to the attention of Luhnow. Luhnow said he had no knowledge of the cheating but MLB held him responsible for his team’s wrongdoings.

“Although Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs, there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention,” Manfred said. “Irrespective of Luhnow’s knowledge of his club’s violations of the rules, I will hold him personally accountable for the conduct of his club.”

A former Houston player, pitcher Mike Fiers, prompted the investigation after telling The Athletic the team had used cameras to steal signs from opponents. Sign stealing allows teams to give batters a huge advantage by telling them which pitches to expect from the opposition. Manfred’s investigation found the team used video-replay staff to decode opponents’ signs. The findings were then sent to the Astros bench by phone or text message. Players in the dugout would eventually hit a trash can with a bat to tell the batter which pitch to expect. While Manfred concluded the relay of information was “player driven”, none of them will be punished.

“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,” Manfred said. “It is impractical given the large number of players involved, and the fact that many of those players now play for other clubs.”

The investigation’s findings will not only affect the Astros. Alex Cora, who was the manager of the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2018, was the bench coach for the Astros in 2017. He, along with then Astros player Carlos Beltran, was found to have played a key role in the wrongdoing. Beltran is now the manager of the New York Mets but is not expected to face punishment as he was a player at the time. The Red Sox are part of an ongoing MLB investigation into allegations they stole signs from opponents during their own title-winning season in 2018. Manfred hinted that Cora will be punished for his actions with the Astros.

The Astros’ 2017 win was as a feelgood story at the time, with the victory bringing joy to a city that had been hit by serious floods earlier that year. However, scandal has hit the team since. Although the Astros reached the World Series again this year, where they lost to the Washington Nationals, the club was forced to apologise after falsely accusing a reporter of fabricating a story in which she accused a member of the team’s staff of verbally abusing a group of female reporters. The staff member was also fired.

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