Perhaps some good comes out of sign-stealing scandal -

Rich Dubroff

Perhaps some good comes out of sign-stealing scandal

Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hopes that his actions against the Houston Astros will serve as a deterrent against electronic sign-stealing. Although many people in baseball think that the sanctions are too lenient, the feeling here is that they will discourage other teams from such behavior.

A day after the Astros dismissed general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch, the Boston Red Sox did the same with their manager, Alex Cora.

As Houston’s bench coach in 2017, Cora was a key operative in the sign-stealing scheme, and he was investigated for a similar operation in Boston.

The New York Mets hired Carlos Beltran, considered a master sign-stealer, as their manager in November only to find out that he was the leader among the players participating. For now, Beltran still has his job.

This wide-ranging story can help rid the game of a segment of wrongdoing, but it’s naïve to think that in a year or two there won’t be other miscreants in the game.

But Manfred’s penalties should prevent a repeat of the Astros’ shameful behavior.

Since 1989, when Pete Rose was banned for life from gambling, no player or manager has been caught wagering on baseball games.

Even during the more relaxed feelings about gambling on professional sports, baseball and other professional sports take the correct hard line on participants wagering on their own sport.

Despite harsh penalties, there’s plenty of temptation for players to cheat by using performance-enhancing drugs.


Millions of dollars and careers are at stake if players can boost their stats, but relatively few players are caught using PEDs. The consequences are great, and players’ previous statistics are looked upon skeptically.

It’s always going to be argued that the cheaters are a step ahead of the testers, but the game is clean and the bloated offensive statistics of two decades ago have been put into historical context.

I’m guessing that last year’s rise in offense will be attributed to a lively ball, and that home runs will revert to more normal levels in 2020.

Penalties for PED violators are negotiated between MLB and the Players Association. Suspending players involved in this scandal would have been cumbersome.

Since front office personnel and managers are club employees, the collective bargaining agreement doesn’t protect them from the commissioner’s actions.

The Astros have been an enjoyable team to watch. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and George Springer were all developed by the team’s minor league system. When Luhnow took over, he inherited Altuve and Springer as well as Dallas Keuchel, who was instrumental in Houston’s 2017 tainted title run.

When Mike Elias, a close colleague and friend of Luhnow’s, took over the Orioles in November 2018, the Astros were considered a model franchise.

After Brandon Taubman’s despicable behavior toward three female sportswriters after Houston’s win over the Yankees in the American League Championship Series, there was negative attention toward the Astros.

Luhnow totally botched the situation, and owner Jim Crane, who was absolved in Manfred’s report, waited far too long to dismiss Taubman.

Manfred is in a tricky spot when it comes to owners. Crane is one of Manfred’s bosses, and while he said the correct things at Monday’s press briefing, he still came off as a lax supervisor.

Luhnow’s graceless statement, in effect blaming players, Cora and lower-level employees for the affair, showed how out of touch he is. It’s impossible to believe that he’ll ever work in baseball again.

Hinch comes off somewhat better. During the Taubman debacle, Hinch seemed to be the adult in the organization, decrying the offensive behavior.

He knew he didn’t act forcibly enough to stop the electronic thievery, but is remorseful enough to protect his future in the game.

An admired and accomplished manager, Hinch could find work in the game again, although probably not when he’s eligible to return next November. Cora, who guided the Red Sox to the 2018 title, might also return, though his sanctions have yet to be announced.

Many fans have wondered about Elias, who like all major league personnel, has been instructed not to comment about the subject.

Surely, Elias and Sig Mejdal, the Orioles’ assistant general manager for analytics, who worked together in Houston at the time, were interviewed in the investigation as were many others. However, they weren’t mentioned in Manfred’s report.

Manfred’s actions and the dismissals of Luhnow. Hinch and Cora leave the Astros and Red Sox in a difficult spot. There’s less than a month before spring training, and while a new manager can certainly come from within the organization, a full but rapid search is demanding and time consuming.

If an outsider is chosen, he’ll inherit a staff and must work quickly to learn the new team and plan spring training without having input on player moves.

Is there anything else that can be done to prevent a repeat of the sign theft? When baseball belatedly adopted comprehensive replay in 2014, it led teams to greatly expand their video departments.

Players had long been able to come in from the bench between innings to look at video of their at-bats or pitches. Perhaps a ban on all use of in-game video would be appropriate.

Watch all the video you’d like before and after the games, but not during.

Instead of calling back to the video room for a decision on whether to appeal a call, use your own eyes to decide.

If that change was implemented, these schemes would end, and challenges would be called for more rapidly. There would be an added advantage. Some dead time would be removed and game times would be shaved slightly.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB



  1. CalsPals

    January 15, 2020 at 7:39 am

    Are we sure Elias wasn’t haven’t signs stolen & sending the wrong signs to ONLY Davis…hmmm…conspiracy theory…go O’s….

  2. Frank Howard LF-1B

    January 15, 2020 at 9:02 am

    Baseball fan since 1965, Orioles fan since 1972. I would gladly trade in all of modern electronic intervention in American pro sports. No “coach’s challenges” in any sport. No overturned calls. No overturned goals, touchdowns or home runs. I preferred the 1972-style NBC Baseball Game of the Week on Saturday afternoons (Tony Kubek and Curt Gowdy announcing). Primitive instant replays allowed one to watch a Harmon Killebrew home run a second time, or a Steve Carlton curve ball catch the outside corner against Joe Torre or Tony Perez. Dave McNally won his decisions and championships fair and square. Replay was an entertainment feature — not a big-brother tool to alter the course of a game — or a whole season.

    As long as umpires and referees exist I’ll take the human element every time. This puts me in a tiny minority so let the beatings begin!

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2020 at 9:06 am

      Replay has worked far better in baseball than football. Technology is so good that most calls made in error can be easily overturned. As for the human element, well I want players deciding the game, and they’re human. Umpires shouldn’t be part of the story.

      • Frank Howard LF-1B

        January 15, 2020 at 9:40 am

        Thanks, Rich. Thoughtful discussion on a thoughtful topic.

        It’s amazing that Manager Cora was sacked from the Red Sox. And the two Top Dogs in Houston too. This is the day-and-age of universal cheating by everybody in powerful positions — in all walks of life — and to see even one of them get caught or removed is – amazing

    • jimcarter

      January 15, 2020 at 10:08 am

      “Bush league” is not a common term any longer, because the vast majority of national play-by-play and color commentators fall into that category. Gowdy and Kubek were part of a breed that has pretty much died off. I’d mention Bob Costas as the only throwback still around. For me; the beginning of the end was Brent Musburger and Dick Vitale. They both were like bad cartoon characters.

  3. Greazy Tony

    January 15, 2020 at 9:16 am

    The one thing I’ve not been able to figure out about Luhnow and Hinch’s suspensions is how they would be eligible to return. If a player cops a suspension and is let go by his team he must serve that suspension when he is signed by another team… even if he has sat out for the amount of time of the penalty while waiting to get signed. So why is it that people keep saying that Luhnow, Hinch and Cora would be able to be signed next November? Shouldn’t they then have to serve their suspension with their new team? What team would hire a manager or GM knowing they’d have to sit out a year before they got to work? That is why when I first saw the news of Manfred’s penalty and their subsequent firing I read it as basically being banned for life.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Luhnow and Hinch were suspended without pay for the 2020 seasons. The mechanism for player suspensions is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and MLB. Front office personnel, managers and coaches can be directly suspended by MLB.

  4. deqalt

    January 15, 2020 at 9:39 am

    It’s a shame the players get away with this. Need to be held accountable. ESPN reported that players were interviewed saying if the manager told them to stop they would have. How old are these players 4?

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2020 at 10:37 am

      Players are taught to listen and respect their manager, and most do. Hinch needed to exercise more authority over players and coaches, deqalt.

      • CalsPals

        January 16, 2020 at 7:28 am

        That’s why there were dustups in the dugout last year, no respect & no accountability, kids today emulate those morons, that’s why we have a majority of the issues we have today…go O’s…

  5. Camden Bird

    January 15, 2020 at 10:05 am

    My thing is stealing signs isn’t really the problem per se. It’s always been a part of the game. If the other team is too oblivious or negligent to not mix things up, that’s on them. So stealing signs doesn’t really bother me, so long as it’s done with your own two eyes and you’re not relaying it to the guy in the box. Want to go over what you’ve observed in the dugout? Fine. But stealing signs ELECTRONICALLY via cameras and laptops? That’s something totally different. That is a major problem.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2020 at 10:38 am

      Manfred has said that sign-stealing is part of the art of the game.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      January 15, 2020 at 1:04 pm

      They used to use binoculars from center field. Is that OK? (I think it is)

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2020 at 1:40 pm

      Binoculars are permitted.

  6. Bancells Moustache

    January 15, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Two thumbs up for removing video from the clubhouse. I’m younger than Frank Howard LF-1B, but I’m totally on board with removing much of the technology. The games at 7:07. Now, in the fourth inning, you want to look at film? What were you doing all day? Of course, this will never happen. It would potentially suppress offense, or at least 21st century walk walk strikeout HR offense, so there’s no way MLB does it.

    Baseball is slowly turning into golf with defense.

  7. Boog Robinson Robinson

    January 15, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    Rich … you write …

    “Instead of calling back to the video room for a decision on whether to appeal a call, use your own eyes to decide.:”

    SPOT ON Mr. Dubroff … what took you so long?

    Rich … I remember this exact discussion just this past summer with me decrying replay along with it’s interminable delays, while you seemed to defend it’s use and the time it took to use it. I’m OK with replay under the following condition … that the manager MUST MAKE THE CHALLENGE IMMEDIATELY … like in a matter of seconds. Waiting to hear from somebody in the clubhouse is total bunk. Make the manager challenge right away, and while we’re at it, force him to run onto the field kicking and screaming and cursing and turning his hat backwards. A challenge should only be made when it’s egregious enough to be seen with the naked eye, and it doesn’t take super slowmo in UHD to be detected!

    How many umps does it take to screw in a light bulb anyway? I hate, hate, HATE the 3 to 5 minutes that it takes for all 3 umpires to gather round ONE headset to listen to the boys in New York. Why all 3?

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 15, 2020 at 1:00 pm

      Ken, I don’t ever recall defending the time it took to decide whether to challenge the call. I actually don’t think we need to return to the days of Earl Weaver tantrums. After reading and hearing about this mess, I think this is one way to stop a repeat.

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        January 15, 2020 at 6:36 pm

        I’d love some Weaver-esque tantrums. Pure entertainment and well worth every minute of game delay they take! Better than watching 3 blind mice hunker over one headset for 5 minutes.

    • CalsPals

      January 15, 2020 at 1:39 pm

      The biggest problem is slowing it down, if they look at a replay it should be at the same speed the play happened in, the newest strategy is hold the glove on him, cause there will be a milli-second that he’s off the bag, if you can’t tell looking at full speed, then they shouldn’t use the video…go O’s…

  8. BirdsCaps

    January 15, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    I’ve heard (not sure where) that baseball wants to move more tech into the game with apple/smart watches. So this incident will probably lead to Manfred wanting to further dilute the game with more tech.

  9. NormOs

    January 16, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    If these CHEATERS can FIX the World Series and only get a years suspension, then I refer everyone to the 1919 Black Sox scandal. I think this would compare favorably with what happened to those guys. They got thrown out of baseball FOR LIFE. These bums got a slap on the wrist. So either reinstate the Back Sox or throw these new bums out of baseball for good. BTW, they can reinstate Pete Rose at the same time. At the least “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Pete Rose should be in the HOF.

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