The Houston Astros’ knees started exquisitely on Monday. Big names were fired. The choices of the project have been revoked. A record fine has been charged. Kilograms of meat were demanded by eminent cheaters. The optics worked. The coming of the Astros was here and it was serious. Major League Baseball was fixing an obvious mistake.
As the day went by and the people around baseball thought exactly about what had happened, a less obvious version of the story emerged. It was all so neat, everything so clean, so carefully orchestrated and meticulously calibrated – like something the Astros, never praised for their efficiency and ruthlessness, could invent.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch are over, suspended for the first time by the league for a year, then fired by owner Jim Crane, although MLB’s investigation into the Houston sign theft system has determined that it was “player driven”. Their choices in the first and second rounds for 2020 and 2021 also ended, painful but not paralyzing. Is that disc okay? All $ 5 million, change of sofa cushion for each baseball owner – and most commissioner Rob Manfred can collect under the MLB constitution, which talks about the limitations of the position.
It is a work of extreme compromise, of politicism, of understanding how to appease the 30 billionaires who are his bosses, and Manfred’s management of the cheater scandal – the greatest of his commissioners so far and one that has touched the heart of the integrity of the game – offered extraordinary insights into how he manages sport. As much as MLB recited the big, bad monolith in delivering the ruinous news from above, this was not a one-sided punishment for the Astros. It was a peek inside the sausage factory of power and anger that Crane’s relative acquittal caused throughout the league.
Multiple property-level sources told ESPN that dissatisfaction with the penalties emerged following a conference call with Manfred, in which he explained how the Astros would be disciplined, then told the teams to keep their thoughts to themselves. .
“The impression,” said one person familiar with the call to ESPN, “was that the penalty for complaining would be greater than that of Houston.”
Concern over any possible discipline for breaking ranks did not completely silence the teams. Tuesday at 12:30 ET, on Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost the 2017 World Series in seven games against an Astros team that the MLB investigation confirmed deceived during that season, released a statement that read: “All clubs have been asked by the Major League Baseball not to comment on today’s Houston Astros punishment is inappropriate to comment on the discipline imposed on another club. The Dodgers have also been asked not to comment on any wrongdoing during the 2017 World Series and will have no further comment at this time. “
Run through a passive-aggressive translator, the words of the Dodgers reflect what a team president had said earlier in the day.
“The crane has won,” he said. “The whole thing was planned to protect the future of the franchise. He got his championship. He keeps his team. His fine is nothing. The sport has lost, but Crane has won.”
On a day when a well-regarded manager and successful executive lost their jobs and the 1919 Black Sox were invoked as comparable elements, it was easy to lose the way the MLB trampled on Crane’s punishment. In the first paragraph of Manfred’s nine-page statement outlining the league’s investigation, he addressed the original The Athletic report that sparked the controversy. The fact that there was “a significant concern” that what the Astros should have done violated “the principles of sportiness and fair competition” and how he deals with such threats to the game with “utmost seriousness”. He continued: “I believe in transparency”. And then, after that thesis on the point, two sentences came completely out of place.
“At first,” Manfred wrote, “I can also say that our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of Astros, was aware of any conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily upset and upset by the conduct by members of your organization, fully supported my investigations and provided unrestricted access to all required information. “
The acquittal of Crane so early in the document was no surprise. Crane said he saw the details of the league’s punishment over the weekend. It allowed him to present himself as an organizational pastor who does something. He announced the layoffs of Luhnow and Hinch on live TV, generating maximum effect. He promised “Astros will get stronger – a stronger organization for this today”. Months of misery – starting with the post-ALCS explosion of ex-assistant GM Brandon Taubman to three journalists who led to his dismissal, continuing with the disclosure of cheating and culminating in this – had made it quite evident that for all Crane strength tries to project, fundamental weaknesses exist throughout the Astros organization.
Much of Manfred’s document was incriminating, in particular the details of the plan defined by MLB investigators and a section in which the commissioner defined the “problematic” organizational culture of Astros and blamed him for “an environment that allowed the conduct described in this relationship occurred. “The words were necessary and important – and entirely rejected by Crane, who said,” I disagree. “
“Did you notice,” said another team president, “never said” Sorry “?”
Crane did not, although it took him even six days to speak to the Sports Illustrated reporter that the organization tried to smear after writing how Taubman had gloated that he was “so happy to have taken Osuna,” a reference to the near Roberto Osuna, who was acquired while still under long term domestic violence. On Monday, Crane apologized to fans, sponsors and the city of Houston. Not the teams that the Astros beat as they cheat or the sport that his franchise’s actions put into this position.
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For Crane, offering anything beyond emptiness and superficiality would have been shocked. While the MLB standard for punishment was reasonable and rational – the league aimed for violations after September 15, 2017, the Manfred reminder distributed that violations of the league’s technology policy would fall on the team’s general manager and manager – Crane said he having fired them because “(n) one of the two started this, but neither of them did anything about it.”
Obviously the same could be said of him. Either Crane didn’t know that the business he owns and runs was cheating or he didn’t know and did nothing about it. Nor is it okay.
None of this is actually good. Baseball is far from done with scandals that steal signs. The league started an investigation into the Boston Red Sox after The Athletic reported using a video playback room to decode the marks in their 2018 championship-winning season. Boston manager Alex Cora was previously a bench coach for Astros in 2017 and was implicated in Manfred’s relationship as a central figure in Houston’s adoption of a system where players used an illegal camera feed to decipher sign sequences and feed types of live pitches to hit through the bang a baseball bat against a garbage can. Between the evidence incriminating Cora and the dismissal of Hinch which paves the way for managerial layoffs, Cora’s time in Boston could come to an end, two sources with knowledge of the team’s thoughts told ESPN.
If Hinch and Cora are both out, the burden then shifts to the New York Mets and Carlos Beltran, who have to decide if they want to be the only team standing next to a manager whose name appears in a report detailing the cheating. rampant. Manfred’s report indicated Beltran as one of the players involved in the scheme, although the league did not discipline him because he gave players immunity in exchange for their testimony.
That choice was publicly recorded as another curious part of Manfred’s latest decision. What kind of disciplinary action does the player cancel for a “player-led” scheme? The answer is practical. Among the well-defined lines that held GM and manager responsible and the Major League Baseball Players Association’s fear of defending any discipline against active players and sending cases into hellish mourning, Manfred’s pragmatism here, although unsatisfactory, is understandable.
This has already passed its comfort level. Initially, Manfred planned to limit the investigation of Astros. Now MLB is examining the Red Sox – and considering that their use of an Apple Watch to forward the signs in August 2017 was the original sin of modern tech cheating, the penalties for any second offense could be serious. Although they are the only other team with a known pending investigation, Sports Illustrated has reported that the Astros have named eight other teams they believe cheated in 2017 and 2018 – and Crane said “the commissioner assured me that each team and any charges will be verified on. “
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It seems far-fetched, like the kind of politicism that a commissioner does to appease one of his leaders. What Manfred can do is expedite the announcement of a new policy on the in-game use of technology, which holds players and management accountable and carries the kind of stiff penalties that Luhnow and Hinch have received. Sport needs buy-in from all sides to move forward.
Hinch tried it. In a statement, he apologized and acknowledged that he could have tried to do better: tell the players and coaches to stop instead of breaking the video monitor twice in protest. He did not. There wasn’t much sympathy for Hinch’s actions around baseball, but there was a willingness to forgive. Executives agreed: he will succeed again after being suspended until the end of the next World Series.
Like Crane, Luhnow apologized to the team, the fans and the city. He said in a statement, “I’m not a cheater.” This does not exactly coincide with the fact that the team he ran has cheated during his championship winning season and with the information in Manfred’s report that “at least two emails sent to Luhnow” informed him of the sign’s decoding of the review-review room, of which he did nothing. Luhnow continued to try to free himself from his responsibilities while blaming “players” and “low-level employees working with the bench coach”. Considering his apparent affinity for throwing people under the bus, we hope Luhnow’s next career isn’t about big motor vehicles.
The rest of baseball is preparing for the relapse of the Astros punishment, and most believe that a purpose has been served: that Manfred’s disciplinary choices will push the ranks and archives to avoid any kind of sign theft schemes helped electronically.
“It will scare employees of MLB teams from cheating, at least for a while,” said a senior executive, “and the man who owns the team enjoys his ring. He goes down lightly and can start with a clean slate. “.
This refrain was common within the game, and came with a rhetorical question, but not really, that illustrated how Jim Crane won the day his franchise lost. How many baseball owners would trade $ 5 million, four high choices and the layoff of their GM and manager in exchange for a World Series title?
Twenty-five? Twenty-eight? All 30? “I don’t know that I would,” said one team president, “but I don’t know I wouldn’t.” It was an honest answer. The decisions made in search of championships, in the service of victory, are complicated. Right and wrong blur. This is why Manfred gets angry with the owners’ complaints. How many are honest about what they would do in the same scenario?
Whatever the answer, Crane’s remaining two mentions in Manfred’s report do Yeoman’s job to free him. The first said it was “difficult to question” the crane that attributed Luhnow responsibility for baseball operations. The second claimed, in fact, that Crane “was not aware of any of the violations of MLB rules by his club.” And that was it. A white and accurate whitewashing. Neat, clean, carefully orchestrated, meticulously calibrated. The Houston Astros, as always.