MLBPA denies Rob Manfred's claim that union blocked Astros interviews until players had immunity

·5 min read

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred attempted to clear the air yet again on Tuesday about his office’s handling of Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, but one point of contention has triggered a public disagreement with the MLB Players Association.

During his news conference on Tuesday, Manfred said his office told the union it was not ruling out disciplinary measure for players as it began its investigation into the Astros in November. According to Manfred, that triggered a stalemate that only ended when MLB granted blanket immunity:

“The union indicated to us that that would be a problem,” Manfred said. “We went back and suggested to them we would give them an initial list of people — players — that we would grant immunity to, preserving our ability to discipline other players. And the union came back and said that players would cooperate only if there was blanket immunity. Because we were at a bit of a stalemate, we knew we needed player witnesses, we agreed to that immunity agreement.

“Let me be clear — we would not have gotten where we got in terms of understanding the facts, learning the facts, disclosing the facts, if we hadn’t reached that agreement. So, I’m not being critical of anyone. But the fact of the matter is the union wanted an immunity agreement to protect their members. And that’s how we got there.”

Essentially, Manfred was placing responsibility on the union for the widely criticized decision to give Astros players immunity.

Players across the leagueplus LeBron James — have questioned why no Astros players have received league punishment for a scheme that was, by most accounts, player-driven. Manfred had previously said the decision was made because the league did not believe it would not have learned nearly as much about the scheme without giving players immunity.

However, uncertainty over whether player discipline could have held up against inevitable appeals and grievances likely played into the decision as well.

MLBPA contradicts Manfred on Astros immunity

The MLBPA fired back later on Tuesday, releasing a statement saying Manfred’s office confirmed to the union the day after the Astros scheme was reported that no players would face discipline. It said any suggestion the union triggered some kind of stand-off over player immunity is “untrue” and that the league was never going to be able to discipline players over the scheme.

The statement also said that written proposals over potential rule changes about sign-stealing have been exchanged between MLB and the MLBPA.

The full statement:

The day after The Athletic published its Nov. 12 article, Major League Baseball informed the Players Association it would be conducting an investigation, and that it would want to interview players as a part of that investigation. MLB said from the outset that it was not its intention to discipline players. This was not surprising because the applicable rules did not allow for player discipline, because even if they did players were never notified of the rules to begin with, and because in past cases involving electronic sign stealing MLB had stated that Club personnel were responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules.

Against this backdrop, the Association on Nov. 13 sought and received confirmation from the league that the players interviewed and any other players would not be disciplined in connection with the allegations made in the article. We received that confirmation promptly on the evening of Nov. 13, and the player interviews began days later.

Any suggestion that the Association failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue. We acted to protect the rights of our members, as is our obligation under the law.

Over the last two weeks, the Association and MLB have had regular dialogue on potential rule changes affecting sign stealing, in-game technology and video, data access and usage, Club audits and disclosures, player education, and enforcement – including the potential for player discipline. Written proposals have been exchanged, and we have made it clear to MLB that no issue is off the table, including player discipline.

This is a pivotal time for our game, and these are critically important issues. How the parties handle the next several weeks will significantly affect what our game looks like for the next several decades. The opportunity is now to forge a new path forward.

So that’s where we are in the fallout of the Astros’ cheating scandal. The commissioner of Major League Baseball and the players’ union are pointing fingers over who exactly was the one responsible for holding off on player discipline.

Manfred says it was the union who twisted his arm into granting immunity to all Astros players before he could so much as talk to them, while the union claims immunity was a bargaining chip Manfred was (or should have been) aware that he didn’t have and never should have tried to use. Both seem to agree player immunity was the best way to handle the situation, but for very different reasons.

We can only wait and see if Manfred gives a third straight news conference to refute the union’s claims.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions at a press conference during MLB baseball owners meetings, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Rob Manfred has come under fire for his handling of the Astros investigation. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

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