Houston Astros owner and chairman Jim Crane on Monday fired the team’s manager and general manager after Major League Baseball found the Astros illegally created a system that decoded and communicated the opposing teams’ pitching signs during their 2017 championship season.
Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended without pay for one season following the league’s investigation into the cheating scheme, MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr., announced earlier.
The suspensions would have lasted through the 2020 World Series and were among a series of MLB penalties from the sign-stealing probe.
The team must still forfeit its regular first- and second-round selections in 2020 and 2021 drafts and pay a $5 million fine.
Sign stealing among teams is almost as old as the game itself. Base runners at second base have been known to relay pitch selection to hitters. But MLB rules prohibit the use of electronic devices to steal signs.
The investigation stems from a report in November in The Athletic, a sports news website, in which former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers — who now pitches for Oakland — said he warned his new teammates that at the Astros’ home games, Houston used an outfield camera fixed on the opposing catcher to steal signs and relay the information to hitters.
The MLB investigation found that at the start of the 2017 season, employees in the Astros video replay room started using the live game feed from the center field camera to decode and transmit opposing teams’ sign sequences to use when an Astros runner was on second base.
The center field camera was allowed under MLB rules to be used primarily for player development.
When the sign sequence was decoded, a player in the video replay room would act as a “runner” to pass along the information to the dugout, according to the findings.
A person in the dugout would notify players in the dugout or signal the sign sequence to a runner on second base. That runner would decipher the catcher’s sign, and signal to the batter from second base, the investigation found.
On occasions, employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence with text messages sent to a staff member on the bench with a smartphone — or, in other instances, to a cell phone nearby, the investigation found.
There is no evidence Crane was aware of the conduct, Manfred said in a statement.
A ‘player-driven’ scheme
According to witnesses, one or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera, and after decoding the sign, a player would “bang a nearby trash can with a bat” to communicate the upcoming type of pitch the batter, the findings say.
“Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication,” the report says.
Players sometimes used a massage gun to bang the trash can; one or two bangs usually meant certain off-speed pitches.
No bang meant a fastball, the report said.
Witnesses say the new scheme was “player-driven,” the report says.
The league’s investigators interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players, and reviewed tens of thousands of emails, text messages, video clips, and photographs, Manfred said.
The Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series.
By Darran Simon, CNN