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NEW YORK — After years of speculation and failed legal arguments, the “Yankees letter” became public before Tuesday’s games began. It confirms that the Yankees’ players used the video replay room to steal signs and decode pitch sequences in 2015 and 2016 and tried to use runners on second base to relay them to the hitters.
While it will not matter to fans of teams like the Astros and Red Sox, who have been punished for sign-stealing scandals, there is a difference. The Astros and Red Sox were punished for sign stealing after September 2017, when Commissioner Rob Manfred defined the rules for using the video replay room, which had just been started three years before. The allegations against the Yankees are from before that declaration from Manfred.
It’s a small but significant contextual point that is lost in the fact the Yankees have publicly played the victim of the Astros’ scandal that came during their 2017 World Series title run. That is partly why the Yankees were afraid this would cause embarrassment and irreparable harm to their reputation.
The reaction around the league, at least, was pretty underwhelming before Tuesday’s games.
One rival coach laughed and asked why the Yankees fought so hard to keep the letter sealed.
“There’s nothing very exciting in there,” the coach said. “It’s nothing that hadn’t been out there before. I just don’t understand why they fought it so hard.”
An American League executive said he wasn’t surprised by what was revealed in the letter, but instead by the fact that was all that was in it.
“Honestly, I guess I expected it to be more shocking,” the executive said. “This was all stuff we’d seen or heard before. "
The letter, dated Sept. 14, 2017, was the result of counter-allegations from the Red Sox, who the Yankees had asked the league to investigate for using an Apple Watch to relay signs, back in August of 2017. The Yankees were fined $100,000 for using the dugout phone to relay signs on some road trips where the video replay room was not near the dugout. The vague illegal use of the dugout phone was reported at the time.
“This is the initial findings, not even the final results of an investigation which was done before the rules were defined,” one team source said when the letter initially came to light. “There are no allegations that there was sign stealing after the Manfred memo.”
Before this investigation into the Red Sox’s use of the Apple Watch in August 2017, MLB and Manfred had not established clear rules on using the video replay rooms in the age-old art of sign and pitch sequence stealing. In fact, it was this investigation and its September 2017 letter that set the precedent for the investigation into the 2017-2018 Astros and 2018 Red Sox sign-stealing scandals.
The Yankees, however, were quick to talk about how they felt cheated by the 2017 Astros, who they lost to in the American League Championship Series. Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez all spoke openly about how upset they were when the findings came to light in 2020. Even this spring, Cashman added to that by saying the Yankees World Series drought should come with an asterisk.
The Yankees’ argument against letting the letter be released was that the context of allegations would be lost and they would be indicted in the court of public opinion under rules that did not exist at the time the letter was written. Legally, the Yankees argued that they were not a party to this lawsuit. They believe it was included by MLB lawyers errantly. It became public as part of the evidence that was released after the dismissal of a lawsuit by a DraftKings user against MLB and the Astros.