Major League Baseball hasn’t been able to figure out how to start a new season. And now it can’t get rid of an old scandal, one which might embarrass the New York Yankees, the most successful franchise in the history of baseball.
The Houston Astros were the first to be punished
Until the COVID-19 pandemic brought spring training to a halt, almost the entire MLB offseason was consumed by the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal during the 2017 and ’18 seasons.
Rivals had long suspected that the Houston Astros had been stealing signs, but a report by The Athletic last November revealed that the 2017 world champions had been doing so in a fashion that violated MLB rules governing the use of technology.
Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers told reporters that the Astros used a centerfield camera at home games to monitor the signs of opposing catchers. Players or staff watching the video feed behind the dugout relayed information to batters in real-time on what pitch to expect.
MLB officials investigated and came down hard on the Astros organization in a disciplinary action that dominated the news during spring training. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were issued year-long suspensions, although the Astros’ owner subsequently fired them. Commissioner Rob Manfred also fined the Astros $5 million, the maximum allowed, and ordered the forfeiture of draft picks.
Chicanery by the Boston Red Sox was less serious
In April, MLB concluded its investigation into sign stealing by the Boston Red Sox during their 2018 World Series championship season. The Red Sox were docked a pick in this week’s draft, but the findings of the commissioner’s office pointed to relatively minor misbehavior.
The final report pinned primary responsibility on a video replay operator and concluded the instances were relatively isolated. The investigation determined that the team employee was relaying the catchers’ signals to Boston runners on second base, who would then tip Red Sox batters on the expected pitch.
Simmering beneath the surface during MLB’s investigations of the Astros and Red Sox were questions about what commissioner Rob Manfred learned in 2017 about behavior by the New York Yankees. It’s known that the Yankees and Red Sox were fined undisclosed amounts after the clubs made claims against each other that season. The Yankees believed the Red Sox were using Apple Watch technology to relay information; the Red Sox accused the Yankees of pointing TV cameras into their dugout.
Did the New York Yankees do more than was disclosed?
The official explanation of MLB’s fine of the New York Yankees in 2017 was that it concerned the improper use of a bullpen phone during the previous season.
Now, however, baseball fans are about to find out what else might have been mentioned in commissioner Rob Manfred’s letter spelling out the punishment. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ordered the Yankees to turn over that letter by Monday afternoon, according to The Athletic.
Rakoff’s order is tied to a lawsuit that participants in DraftKings fantasy sports betting filed accusing MLB, the Astros, and the Red Sox of defrauding them via the stealing of signs. Rakoff previously dismissed that suit, but the case has been appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals.
The DraftKings plaintiffs allege that the behavior by the Yankees, world champions 27 times, as far back as 2015 was more substantial than just a technical violation of MLB rules that existed at the time. The basis of their suspicion is unknown.
The Yankees and MLB are citing the need for confidentiality in investigations of improper conduct as the basis for wanting to keep the commissioner’s letter private. However, Rakoff called the privacy interests “modest at best, and not nearly strong enough to overcome the robust presumption of access that attaches to the Yankees Letter.”