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Jeff Luhnow, former general manager of the Houston Astros, recently sat down with Vanessa Richardson of Houston’s KPRC for his first interview since he was banned and fired in the fallout of the Astros cheating scandal. It’s been almost a year since the accusations surfaced and nine months since he and former manager AJ Hinch were punished for a cheating scandal that MLB says they had very little to do with.
Whether you consider Luhnow to be a martyr or heartless executive who got what was coming to him, this is the interview you’ve been waiting for. After having the better part of a year to stew and plan exactly what he was going to say, Luhnow is finally speaking.
So what did Luhnow say about the sign-stealing scheme and MLB’s investigation? Or about the poor organizational response to then-employee Brandon Taubman berating a female reporter? Here are five things you need to know.
Luhnow says employees intentionally didn’t tell him about the sign stealing
When Luhnow was sifting through 22,000 Astros text messages, he discovered that a sector of employees had been actively planning the video room sign-stealing activities for every game and even assigning duties. They also didn’t want him to find out about it.
“...After the investigation was over and I was fired, I got access to about 22,000 text messages that were from personnel in the video room. And it was clear from those messages that they were communicating back and forth about the rule violations. They were aware of the Red Sox and Yankees rule violations, they were aware it was wrong, and they also were using text messages to cheat on the job. They were communicating signs, and this was to coaches, to people in the video room. It’s all there in black and white. And what’s also clear from it is who’s not involved. I’m not implicated. I’m not in any of those text messages. In fact, there’s a few text messages where they say ‘Don’t tell Jeff.’ ”
Cheaters are still working for the Astros
MLB only punished Luhnow and Hinch for the sign-stealing scandal, but their involvement seems minor. The logistics of decoding signs from the video room were handled by employees, and Luhnow says many are still working for the Astros.
“...It’s pretty clear who was involved in the video decoding scheme, when it started, how often it happened, and basically when it ended. And it’s also pretty clear who was not involved.
"And I don’t know why that information, that evidence, wasn’t discussed in the ruling, wasn’t used. The people who were involved that didn’t leave naturally to go to other teams are all still employed by the Astros.
“In fact, one of the people who was intimately involved, I had demoted from a position in the clubhouse to a position somewhere else, and after I was fired he was promoted back into the clubhouse. So none of those people faced any repercussions. They weren’t discussed in the report, but the evidence is all there that they were involved.”
He wanted to take a lie detector test for Rob Manfred, but Manfred said no
Luhnow said that he realized early on that neither the players or ownership would be punished for the sign-stealing scheme, and that left just a few places for the blame to go. Knowing that he was likely to be reprimanded, he put together a massive 150-page binder that refuted each and every accusation against him. He brought it to a meeting with commissioner Rob Manfred, but he knew that it probably wouldn’t be enough to save himself from punishment. So he proposed a lie detector test.
“I also looked at him and I told him, ‘I would like to take a lie detector test,’ because it essentially came down to one person’s word that I might have known against my word.”
According to Luhnow, Manfred said no. Manfred also never called any of the personal references Luhnow provided, and may not have read any of Luhnow’s binder since none of it ended up in MLB’s final investigation report.
Luhnow claims he was always the target of MLB’s investigation
Luhnow claims that someone working on the investigation told him that he was the target, that he was who they wanted to take down at all costs. Once he found that out, Manfred’s disinterest in his binder, references, and offer to take a lie detector made a lot more sense.
“I mean, they extended the investigation for about two weeks just so they could find more evidence about me. And how do I know that? I was told that, directly, from somebody working on the investigation, that ‘you are the target of this investigation, and they are going to continue to dig until they find something on you,’ and they did. They found something that they believe is evidence. It’s not. I refuted it very quickly and thoroughly, but it was enough for them to feel good about suspending me.”
Luhnow also believes that MLB’s investigation was never meant to determine who did what; the purpose was to punish people to appease the public and other teams.
“I think the investigation was not attempting to really uncover who did what, and who was really responsible. The goal of the investigation was to deliver punishments that Rob could feel good about and that would calm the panic. [...] So they had to create a case they felt good enough about in order to punish me.”
Luhnow takes no real responsibility for the Taubman incident
The Astros had been under scrutiny even before the cheating allegations surfaced. Assistant general manager Brandon Taubman berated a female reporter in front of several witnesses, and then the Astros compounded the situation by releasing a statement that denied that it had ever happened. Despite being the GM, Luhnow takes zero responsibility for any of it, claiming that his objection to the statement was ignored.
“Now, you probably know this as a reporter, but as a general manager, I don’t write press releases. I see them before they go out if they have to do with baseball operations and I’ll approve a quote if it’s supposedly my words, but even my quotes are written by someone else. This particular response was crafted, edited, and written by the person that runs the legal operation for the Astros, and the person that runs the marketing and PR for the Astros. Those two wrote it, edited it, and sent it out. Now, they did syndicate it … when I say syndicate it, there were other people copied on the email traffic that evening.
“Nobody said, ‘don’t send this out.’ I should’ve said that, and I feel bad that I didn’t, because my gut was telling me this was probably not the right reaction. Even though everybody in that group believed that the incident was innocent, which it turned out not to be, it still didn’t feel like the right reaction because it was so aggressive. At one point I objected to it, not as vociferously as I wish I would have. My objection was ignored. And 20 minutes later the response was sent out. It was very clear, immediately after the response was sent out, that it was horrifically wrong. And it made us look terrible. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for that response.
Luhnow also says that he was unfairly made the face of the entire debacle when he was asked to talk to the media about the Taubman incident and the team’s response. He says he takes responsibility for everything that happened, but then immediately refutes that by saying it wasn’t his area.
“I was instructed by one of the people that wrote the response not to disclose who wrote it, and to make everybody understand it was an Astros response, but not to talk about the people who were involved. I followed those instructions. I sat there for 20 minutes and was attacked by every media outlet in the country and I know I didn’t handle it as well as I could have, but I didn’t want to lie, so I told them I had seen the response before it went out. Which, essentially made me the face of the response because no one else was willing to face the music.
“When that interview was over, I received a text message from the other person who had been involved in writing it and crafting it thanking me for ‘taking one for the team.’ I shouldn’t have taken one for the team. I didn’t write that response. It was a horrible response. It never should have happened. But unfortunately I did. I take my responsibility in it. I should have stopped it, but that’s not my area of expertise. I was busy preparing for the World Series. There are people in the company; the legal department, the marketing department, the PR department; those are the people that are involved in crisis management. And they botched this one big time.”
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