Major League Baseball’s investigation into the 2017 Houston Astros’ illegal sign-stealing is complete. The organization has been hit with a multi-million dollar fine, loss of draft picks and multiple year-long suspensions, but not a vacating of the championship they won. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch have been unceremoniously fired.
Now, Luhnow would like to you to know one of the biggest scandals in baseball history — which festered under his watch — was not his fault. Hinch, in a separate statement, chose a different tactic.
Fired Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has plenty of blame to dish out
Hours after Astros owner Jim Crane announced he was firing Luhnow and Hinch, both men released statements attempting to explain their side of the story that has engulfed the MLB offseason.
Luhnow stated he accepted responsibility for all the cheating that occurred on his watch ... then proceeded to explain how he isn’t a cheater and had no idea what was happening. He said if he had known, he would have stopped it.
Via an attorney, Jeff Luhnow released this statement pic.twitter.com/ZNbKzb6EBI
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) January 13, 2020
Though Luhnow claims MLB’s report cleared him of directing, overseeing or engaging in misconduct, he fails to note that the report says two emails were sent to him about replay room efforts and that there is conflicting knowledge about conversations with him on the topic.
Astros manager blames only himself
Luhnow’s statement stood in enormous contrast to that of Hinch, who blamed no one but himself for the cheating in his dugout.
Here is a statement from A.J. Hinch: pic.twitter.com/29GmAmE9XY
— Jake Kaplan (@jakemkaplan) January 13, 2020
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred reported that Hinch was aware of his team’s illegal sign-stealing, but played no part in it and disapproved of it to the point of twice physically damaging the monitor used to view signs.
However, Hinch reportedly conceded that he still failed to act in the face of something clearly illegal, and that’s what led to his year-long suspension.
Even though Astros manager AJ Hinch disagreed with the use of video -- going so far as to damage a monitor used in the scheme multiple times to show his disapproval -- he was still suspended for a year. pic.twitter.com/kg0feY9oQC
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 13, 2020
Should we believe Jeff Luhnow?
It is hard to take Luhnow at his word, given that the Astros front office has quite publicly prioritized the gathering of information above all else.
This is the organization that pioneered the use of high-tech cameras at every possible level and was held up as the pinnacle of symbiosis between front office and dugout, and suddenly we’re supposed to believe that the whole team cheating, including at least one coach with the manager in the know, didn’t get back to the man in charge for three years.
Manfred’s statement specifically said it was Luhnow’s job to be aware of the activities of his players and staff, and he was, at best, a spectacular and historic failure in that regard.
It might also be time to remember that at least one Astros executive, whose title on the Astros’ site right now is “Special Assistant to the GM,” was reported to have sent an email instructing advance scouts to look into ways to illegally steal signs from the stands.
There was also the field-level tradecraft of an Astros team employee — not a player or coach — who was caught videotaping an opposing dugout during the 2018 playoffs in a supposed attempt to curb cheating. Luhnow’s explanation at the time: it was an intern “doing what people ask him to do.”
Perhaps Luhnow should have had the employee taping his own dugout. It seems there was plenty to find.
Cheating wasn’t the only problem under Luhnow
Of course, Luhnow wasn’t just banned for the cheating that occurred under him.
In his report, Manfred specifically took Luhnow to task for the culture that had taken hold of his baseball operations department, drawing a direct line between that culture and both the Astros’ cheating and the infamous Brandon Taubman incident.
Rob Manfred went for the jugular in his notes on the culture in the Astros' baseball ops department. pic.twitter.com/y1kULIyz12
— Lindsey Adler (@lindseyadler) January 13, 2020
The cheating scandal wasn’t directly attributable to Luhnow, but at some point you have to wonder why a man should keep his job with all of this happening under him.
Luhnow will now have plenty of time to ponder how to stop those misdeeds in the future, if he gets a job in baseball again.
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