The Chron headline is blaring, but I kind of think we already knew most of this stuff.
Major League Baseball fined the New York Yankees $100,000 in 2017 for using their replay room and dugout phone to steal their opponent’s signs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons in what commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “material violation” of rules governing the replay room.
The ruling was in a letter that Manfred sent to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Sept. 14, 2017.
The two-page document provided few specifics and rehashed much of what Manfred already acknowledged in a Sept. 15, 2017 statement, one in which he disciplined the Red Sox for using their replay room to decode signs and warned “future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”
The Astros continued to use their electronic sign-stealing scheme and trashcan banging at Minute Maid Park despite the warnings. Owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after the system became public in Jan. 2020. The league also fined the franchise $5 million and took away its first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.
Manfred’s letter to Cashman helped to reinforce two long-held beliefs: electronic sign-stealing predated the Astros’ infamous trashcan banging scheme and ran rampant throughout the sport before stricter enforcement arrived in Sept. 2017. Multiple players across baseball have acknowledged it since the Astros’ punishments were levied and they became pariahs. No other publicly known sign-stealing schemes — including the one detailed in Manfred’s letter to Cashman — approach the severity of Houston’s trashcan banging scheme.
According to the letter, a Yankees baseball operations assistant admitted to league investigators that he provided information about opponent’s signs to members of the team’s replay room during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
The staffer’s name is redacted in the letter. The Boston player, who had played for the Yankees earlier in his career, is also not named.
The staff in the replay room “physically relayed the information” to the Yankees dugout, but the letter did not specify how it happened. The team also tried its tactics during road games, according to the letter. At ballparks where the dugout was farther from the replay room, the Yankees sometimes used a dugout phone line to “orally provide real-time information” about the opponent’s signs, the letter said.
Manfred wrote that the Yankees’ wrongdoing “constitutes a material violation of the replay review regulations” and had “the same objective of the Red Sox’s scheme that was the subject of the Yankees complaint.”
In his public statement on Sept. 15, 2017, Manfred acknowledged that the Yankees “had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone” during a season prior to 2017.
“The substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any rule or regulation in and of itself,” Manfred said in that announcement. “Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.”
Both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox were cited for sign-stealing schemes that originated in the team’s replay room. The Astros ran a far more egregious operation: positioning a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park, pointing it at the catcher and banging trashcans to relay the signs he flashed to Houston hitters.
Manfred’s letter to Cashman mentioned nothing about cameras. It also does not accuse the Yankees of illicit activity after Sept. 15, 2017 — the day Manfred promised harsher punishment for sign-stealing.
The 2018 Red Sox scheme was “far more limited in scope and impact” than the Astros’ 2017 actions, according to the league’s findings. Alex Cora, Boston’s manager that season, incurred a one-year suspension for only his actions as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.
See here for the previous update. Going back through my archives, the first mention of this letter was from 2020, and most of what happened since then was related to the Yankees’ efforts to keep it under wraps. I don’t see any specific mention of the Yankees being accused of some form of sign stealing, but there was definitely the assumption all along that multiple teams had at least dipped a toe in those waters, with more than a little suspicion thrown at New York. The key thing, which we did know from the beginning, was Manfred’s warning to teams in 2017 that any further violations will be treated more harshly. Which is what happened to the Astros and to a lesser degree to the Red Sox.
So if you’re an Astros fan and you want to feel smug about this and go on about Yankee hypocrisy, go for it. You’ve got all the evidence you need. Just know that some of the dunking I’ve seen on Facebook has largely boiled down to “we cheated better than you did!” which really isn’t all that compelling if you ask me. I’m sure you can do better than that. If you’re a Yankees fan, the best response is along the line of “yeah, but when MLB said ‘no, seriously, cut it out’, we did and you didn’t”. And then we can go on hating each other as usual, which is the natural order of things in sports. Everybody wins!