Lethbridge Herald

Astros turfed



Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday after the pair were suspended by Major League Baseball for the team’s use of electronic­s for sign stealing during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series title and during the 2018 season.

In U.S. sports’ largest scandal since the New England Patriots’ “Spygate,” Commission­er Rob Manfred announced the discipline Monday and strongly hinted that current Boston manager Alex Cora — the Astros bench coach in 2017 — will face equal or more severe punishment. Manfred said Cora developed the sign-stealing system used by the Astros. The Red Sox are under investigat­ion for sign-stealing in Cora’s first season as manager in 2018, when Boston won the World Series.

Houston was fined $5 million for sign stealing, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constituti­on. The Astros will forfeit their next two firstand second-round draft picks.

Houston was found guilty of using a television camera in centre field to relay catcher’s signals of pitches to its video replay room, and players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming. Astros players disputed whether knowing the pitches seconds in advance helped batters. Houston had fewer wins at home than on the road, winning 94 home games and 110 on the road during the two seasons. There was no signsteali­ng system on the road.

“While it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significan­t harm to the game,” Manfred said.

Manfred, in his most significan­t action since becoming commission­er five years ago, said Hinch failed to stop the sign stealing and that Luhnow was responsibl­e for the players’ conduct even though he made the dubious claim he was not aware. Manfred said owner Jim Crane was not informed.

An hour after MLB announced its decision, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow were fired.

“We need to move forward with a clean slate,” he said.

Houston was a big leaguebest 204-120 during the two years in question, winning its first title. Hinch, a 45-year-old former catcher with a degree from Stanford, was the most successful manager in the history of the Astros, who have won two of the last three AL pennants and came within one victory of another World Series title. Luhnow, 53, earned an MBA at Northweste­rn and fostered an analytic-based culture during eight seasons as Astros GM, but also a toxic one with high turnover.

“It is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifestin­g itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholde­rs, has been very problemati­c,” Manfred wrote in a nine-page statement. “At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture — one that valued and rewarded results over other considerat­ions, combined with a staff of individual­s who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led ... finally, to an environmen­t that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”

Baseball’s response was far greater than that of the NFL to a similar infraction. New England coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 in 2007 and the Patriots were fined $250,000 for using video to capture an opponent’s signals. In the scandal known as Spygate, the Patriots also were stripped of a first-round draft choice. They were penalized again for $1 million eight years later for deflating footballs used in the AFC championsh­ip game. The NFL took away a first-round draft pick and suspended quarterbac­k Tom Brady for four games.

Manfred said Hinch was aware of the system but did not tell Luhnow.

“As the person with responsibi­lity for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justificat­ion for Hinch’s failure to act,” Manfred said.

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