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MLB begins to contemplate its return

Well, this is interesting.

Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

Though the plan has a number of potential stumbling blocks, it has emerged above other options as the likeliest to work and has been embraced by MLB and MLB Players Association leadership, who are buoyed by the possibility of baseball’s return and the backing of federal officials, sources said.

The plan, sources said, would dictate that all 30 teams play games at stadiums with no fans in the greater Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and perhaps other nearby fields. Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

The May return date depends on a number of concerns being allayed, and some officials believe a June Opening Day could be more realistic, sources said. Most important would be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time, which sources familiar with the plan believe will happen by early May and allow MLB’s testing to not diminish access for the general public.

While health officials see MLB players as low-risk candidates for COVID-19-related issues because of their age and health, putting protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of older managers, coaches, umpires and other personnel would be paramount to the plan working, sources said.

The logistics to pull off such a plan would be enormous and cumbersome on the league side and require the buy-in of players, who sources expect to be skeptical of separating from their families for an indefinite amount of time — perhaps as long as 4½ months, if the inability to stem the coronavirus outbreak keeps teams from playing in their home stadiums in 2020.

Still, there is hope among leadership on both sides that the combination of receiving paychecks for playing and baseball’s return offering a respite to a nation beset by the devastation of COVID-19 would convince players to agree to the plan, sources said.

[…]

While the possibility of a player or staff member testing positive for the coronavirus exists, even in a secured setting, officials do not believe that a positive test alone would necessarily be cause to quarantine an entire team or shut down the season, sources said. The plan could include teams carrying significantly expanded rosters to account for the possibility of players testing positive despite the isolation, as well as to counteract the heat in Phoenix, which could grow problematic during the summer, sources said. The allure of more players potentially receiving major league salaries and service time would appeal strongly to the union, according to sources.

Both sides acknowledge the uniqueness of the season would not be limited to stadium location or roster size. Among the possibilities that have been discussed among people from both sides, though not in the talks on Monday, according to sources:

• Implementing an electronic strike zone to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter

• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach

• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which with an earlier-than-expected start date could allow baseball to come closer to a full 162-game season

• Regular use of on-field microphones by players, as an added bonus for TV viewers

• Sitting in the empty stands 6 feet apart — the recommended social-distancing space — instead of in a dugout

Each option, though far from certain, is likely to be bandied about in the coming days as the viability of the plan for everyone involved takes shape.

That’s a lot, and MLB has subsequently clarified that pretty much everything is still under discussion. A June start date may be more feasible, for one thing. I’m glad they’re willing to consider all kinds of outside-the-box ideas, and I’m glad that they are in discussion with the NIH and not just winging this, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this. I mean, if the goal is to avoid having no baseball at all in 2020 – which, let’s face it, is a real possibility – then this is the sort of thinking that will be required. Nothing is sacred other than the health of everyone involved. If that can be managed, then let’s make something work. I’ll be very interested to see where these negotiations go. Fangraphs has more.

UPDATE: The Ringer is dubious:

But one crucial element necessary for the enactment of any “Baseball Biodome”–style plan is missing from these early drafts. It’s the Maldivian resort workers waiting on one couple, trapped by someone else’s flouting of the COVID-19 danger.

Baseball games don’t just need players and coaches and umpires. They also need grounds crews. They need trainers. They need janitors and laundry workers and security, and clubhouse attendants and team chefs and equipment personnel. Team hotels need almost all of those people, too. And games will likely need some sort of scouting or front office framework, and media members. They’ll certainly need television crews on site—even if announcers might be able to call games remotely, camera operators and producers would have to penetrate the biodome—if the goal is to provide entertainment for the masses without fans in the stands.

Thus, two possibilities present themselves. Either all those hundreds (thousands?) of workers spread across 15 stadiums and numerous hotels in Arizona would come into contact with the otherwise completely isolated players and coaches, risking an immediate piercing of the COVID-free bubble, or else all those hundreds (thousands?) of workers would need to be sequestered as well, in which case the logistical nightmare would amplify exponentially.

Yeah, the sheer numbers involved make it seem much less likely to work. And of course, all these other people are paid much less, and thus have much less incentive to go along with this four-months-of-isolation idea. I don’t know how you make this all work. I still think it’s worth thinking about, but we can’t lose sight of reality.

DraftKings lawsuit tossed

Score one for the Astros.

Did not age well

A federal judge in New York mixed technical points of law with humor and theatrical flourishes in delivering a rousing defeat Friday to a group of baseball daily fantasy players who sued the Astros, Red Sox and Major League Baseball, claiming they were defrauded by the sport’s electronic sign-stealing scandal.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff’s 32-page opinion in the case, filed by fantasy players from Massachusetts, California, Texas, Florida and California, begins by quoting from the 1956 film “High Society” and then dismantles the plaintiffs’ case while delivering a brief scolding to the Astros and Red Sox for their misdeeds.

While Rakoff, according to a 2014 magazine profile, is a Yankees fan who keeps a baseball autographed by Hall of Fame reliever Mariano Rivera on his desk, he nonetheless dismissed the fantasy players’ complaint as “verbose, rhetorical and conclusory” — conclusory referring to a conclusion that is unsupported by facts — in dropping the case against two teams that are hardly on any list of Yankees fans’ favorites.

Rakoff began by noting that baseball celebrates stealing, if only of a base, and noted that it also can “lead our heroes to employ forbidden substances on their (spit) balls, their (corked) bats or even their (steroid-consuming) selves.

“But as Frank Sinatra famously said to Grace Kelly in the 1956 movie musical ‘High Society,’ ‘There are rules about such things,’” the judge wrote. “One of these rules forbids the use of electronic devices in aid of the players’ inevitable efforts to steal the opposing catcher’s signs.

“In 2017, and thereafter, the Houston Astros, and somewhat less blatantly the Boston Red Sox, shamelessly broke that rule, and thereby broke the hearts of all true baseball fans. But did the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim?

“On the allegations here made,” the judge concluded, “the answer is no.”

See here and here for the background. A copy of the judge’s ruling is embedded in the story. There are still other lawsuits out there for the Astros to contend with as a result of the sign stealing scandal, but this one is done for now. We’ll see if the plaintiffs try to appeal. ESPN has more.

The conditions under which baseball can return

If coronavirus cooperates. Cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Major League Baseball owners have approved a plan to address salary and service-time issues amid the indefinite delay to the start of the regular season, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

The owners completed an agreement reached between MLB and the players’ union Thursday night, which came after nearly two weeks of morning-to-night negotiations that involved players, owners, agents, executives, union officials and commissioner’s office staff.

As part of the agreement, obtained by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the players and MLB primarily agreed that the 2020 season will not start until each of the following conditions are met:

  • There are no bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans. However, the commissioner could still consider the “use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible”;
  • There are no travel restrictions throughout the United States and Canada;
  • Medical experts determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans, with the commissioners and union still able to revisit the idea of playing in empty stadiums.

While there was no formal framework in the agreement, owners and players both want to play as many games as possible. The flexibility of both sides was seen in the willingness to extend the regular season into October, play neutral-site playoff games in November and add doubleheaders to the schedule.

That’s the basic gist of it, though I’d recommend you read the whole story. There are a lot of moving parts, and who knows under which conditions Commissioner Manfred might reach for that “appropriate substitute neutral sites” clause. You also have to wonder when leagues like the NBA and NHL, which are in the middle of suspended seasons, will come out with some similar document for their own return. (The NBA is watching the Chinese basketball league to see how their efforts to restart go.) This agreement between MLB and the players’ union will also have profound effects on amateur players and potentially the minor leagues – I recommend you read this Fangraphs article for the details on that. We should all also remember that we’re still on the upslope of this curve. There’s an ending out there and it’s good to look forward to it, but we can’t yet see it from here.

Further delay for Opening Day

Mid-May at the most optimistic, and that’s very likely too soon.

Major League Baseball pushed back opening day until mid-May at the earliest on Monday because of the new coronavirus after the federal government recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement following a conference call with executives of the 30 teams.

“The clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed across the country for the next eight weeks.

“The opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance,” Manfred said.

No telling at this point when games will start. The All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on July 14 could be in jeopardy.

“We’re not going to announce an alternate opening day at this point. We’re going to have to see how things develop,” Manfred told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida. He didn’t want to speculate about the possibility of playing in empty stadiums, saying part of that decision would depend on timing.

See here for the background. This assumes that after eight weeks we will not be under a general directive to greatly limit public gatherings, and that MLB players will be more or less ready to go as soon as that happens. I’ll take the over on this best and assume that sometime in June is a more realistic target. The NBA is currently aiming for mid-to-late June, and if that is how it works out for MLB as well, I’ll be reasonably satisfied. That could yield an MLB season of between 90 and 120 games, depending on when in June things could start and whether the end of the season could be pushed back and/or whether there might be more doubleheaders. I’m sure there will be plenty of discussions between the league and the union, as there are now about pay and service time and what have you. Three months seems like forever now, but if we’re at a point of normality again where sports have returned, I for one will be pretty damn happy. I mean, there are plenty of worse alternatives at this time.

Let’s not play ball

Not just yet, anyway.

Major League Baseball has cancelled the remainder of its Spring Training games, also announcing that the start of the 2020 regular season will be delayed by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was announced following a call with all 30 Clubs and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Opening Day was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 26.

MLB said the action “is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.”

The league will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days.

MLB and its Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular-season schedule. The league plans to announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time, though MLB also said it “will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”

“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans,” the league said in its announcement. “MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.”

The National Hockey League and Major League Soccer also announced Thursday that they have suspended their seasons. The National Basketball Association suspended its regular season on Wednesday night for at least 30 days, a move which came after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. Thursday, a second Utah player — Donovan Mitchell Jr. — also tested positive.

Additionally, the NCAA announced that all winter and spring sport seasons have been cancelled, meaning that there will be no men’s or women’s NCAA basketball tournament this year, and no men’s and women’s College World Series.

These are scary times, and we won’t have a lot of familiar comforts to get us through them. But get through them we will, eventually. Stay strong and wash your hands.

MLB, Astros, Red Sox respond to DraftKings lawsuit over sign stealing

It’s motion to dismiss time.

Did not age well

As baseball’s electronic sign-stealing case joins the long list of sports-related court cases, attorneys for the the Astros, Red Sox and Major League Baseball all say that while fantasy sports bettors may be angered by rules violations, that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to monetary damages as a result of cheating.

All three parties filed responses late last week in a proposed class action case filed in a New York City federal court against the two teams and MLB over purported damages resulting from the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal.

The two cases filed in New York have effectively been rolled into one case as bettors have joined forces against the MLB entities.

All three responses to the lawsuit filed by DraftKings customers cite court decisions in such past brouhahas as the New England Patriots’ “Spygate” case in 2010, boxer Mike Tyson’s ear-biting assault upon Evander Holyfield in 1997 and the New Orleans Saints’ “Bountygate” scandal of 2009-11 in asking U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff to dismiss this case.
“Every court that has been faced with similar claims by disappointed fans … has soundly rejected such a claim recognizing that these types of issues are best resolved on the field and not in the courtroom,” attorneys for MLB wrote. “The same result should obtain here.”

In similar fashion, attorneys for the Astros wrote that fans “have no express or implied right to an event free of penalties, undisclosed injuries, rules violations, cheating or similar conduct. … There is no legal claim for a violation of a sports league’s internal rules.”

See here for the background, and here for more sign-stealing-lawsuit stuff. A copy of the Astros’ motion to dismiss is in the story. I don’t have anything to add to this, but if you’d like to hear an actual lawyer give real lawyer-like opinions and analysis of the various sign-stealing lawsuits and their merits, I recommend you listen to this episode of Effectively Wild, which will give you a firm footing on the subject. Courthouse News and the Associated Press have more.

More Astros lawsuits

This one was filed by a dissatisfied customer.

Did not age well

An Astros season ticket holder has filed suit in Harris County District Court against the ballclub, accusing the team of negligence, breach of contract and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act in conjunction with the 2017-18 electronic sign-stealing scandal.

The suit, filed Friday by Beaumont attorneys Mitchell A. Toups and Richard L. Coffman on behalf of season ticket holder Adam Wallach of Humble, seeks class action status for Astros full and partial season-ticket holders from 2017 through 2020 and damages in excess of a million dollars.

The Astros are accused of “deceptively overcharging (fans) for season tickets while defendants and their employees and representative knowingly and surreptitiously engaged in a sign stealing scheme … and secretly put a deficient product on the field that could result (and now has resulted) in severe penalties” from Major League Baseball.

As a result of the scheme, the lawsuit claims, season ticket holders are owed refunds of what attorneys say were inappropriate increases in ticket prices for the last four seasons. The suit also seeks treble damages for the Astros’ “knowing, willful, intentional, surreptitious, wrongful and unconscionable conduct.”

In addition, attorneys seek an order that would prevent the Astros from increasing season ticket prices for at least two years.

There were already two other lawsuits against the Astros over the whole sign stealing thing; this story notes yet another, a hand-written (!) lawsuit from a guy in Nevada who lost money in both 2017 and 2018 betting on the Dodgers to win the World Series. The day will come when this sort of story will end, but today is not that day. I Am Not A Lawyer, and I have my doubts that this will survive a motion to dismiss, but the Chron asked some actual lawyers, and maybe it can.

With three potential class action lawsuits pending against the Astros in Harris County courts, the scene is set for what attorneys say is a multi-layered, landmark legal battle that could test the wits and knowledge of lawyers, judges and jurors and perhaps extend beyond information disclosed in Major League Baseball’s report.

“This is a complicated mess,” said Talmage Boston, a Dallas attorney who has written two books on baseball’s history and is a member of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. “We have never seen anything like this before. There will be nothing easy about this case.”

Two additional lawsuits were filed against the ballclub Tuesday, bringing to at least seven the number of cases in state and federal court stemming from the electronic sign-stealing scheme in 2017-18 that resulted in Major League Baseball sanctions against the ballclub.

In the two latest suits, filed by the Hilliard Martinez Gonzales law firm in Corpus Christi, attorneys will seek authority to collect testimony that could go beyond details collected by the MLB probe that led to the firing of Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow by team owner Jim Crane.

John Duff, an associate with the Hilliard firm, said attorneys for the ticket holders will attempt to question not only current and former Astros players and management but also MLB executives and players and managers from other teams, extending the boundaries of the MLB probe.

[…]

Sports-related lawsuits are not uncommon, with examples including the NFL’s “Spygate” affair with the New England Patriots and cases filed by disgruntled New Orleans Saints fans over officiating decisions that affected playoff games.

None of those cases proceeded to trial. Boston, however, said he believes the three Harris County cases, each of which seeks to represent season ticket holders who say they were defrauded by the Astros’ misdeeds, have a chance to proceed.

“The Astros will try to get them dismissed, but I think they will get teed up in front of a jury,” Boston said. “There are some compelling facts, and the evidence discovery will go deeper than anything we know in terms of what (MLB commissioner Rob Manfred) had in his investigation.

“It really is a can of worms.”

So who knows what might happen. Each case is in a different court, and there may be an effort to move them to federal court, which the plaintiffs will resist. I still have my doubts, but it sure would be interesting to see what the discovery process might uncover.

Astros offer an apology

We’ll see how it goes for them.

From a local newscast in LA

Astros players issued their first public apology after being involved in a cheating scandal that rocked baseball in the offseason.

“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team by the organization and by me,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said in a press conference at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans. I would also like to thank the Astros fans for all of their support. We as a team are totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season.”

Jose Altuve followed up with a similar apology and said the team had a meeting Wednesday to talk about how they should move forward.

“I want to say that the whole Astros organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017,” said Altuve in a 38-second statement. “We especially feel remorse for the impact on the fans and the game of baseball, and our team is determined to move forward, to play with intensity and to bring back a championship to Houston in 2020.”

[…]

“At that meeting last night, the players showed tremendous remorse, sorrow and embarrassment for their families, organization, city of Houston and baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I want to ask for the baseball world to forgive them for the mistakes they made.”

Astros owner Jim Crane, who fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow when baseball released its report on the Astros’ cheating scandal, also apologized.

“I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened,” Crane said. “I want to repeat this will never happen again on my watch.”

I’ll get to Crane in a minute, but suffice it to say not everyone was convinced. I do think this will simmer down over time – if nothing else, the Red Sox punishment is coming, and that will provide a distraction and another target for fans to aim their displeasure – but it will be present for the season, if not longer. Every first meeting against another team, every time an Astros player gets hit by a pitch, any time someone pops off on Twitter, the whole saga will get rehashed. And if there are further revelations, well, as the man once said, hold onto your butts.

As for Astros owner Jim Crane, maybe he should have hired a better apology-writer.

The Astros, who now stand, in the words of one analyst, as “baseball’s unfaithful spouse,” tried to address the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal Thursday with a hybrid communications strategy that observers say left questions unanswered and failed to mollify the team’s critics.

While observers were more generous toward comments by Astros players in the spring training clubhouse at West Palm Beach, Fla., they were less complimentary of the 30-minute news conference staged by owner Jim Crane, which included brief remarks by players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.

Gene Grabowski, a partner at the crisis communications firm kglobal in Washington, D.C., said the Astros were ill-served by advisers in planning the opening news conference that got the morning off to a rough start.

“The core of the problem is that the team’s owner and players tried to declare the crisis over before it’s really over,” Grabowski said. “They sounded arrogant when they said they are moving on. That’s for the fans and sports writers to say — not guilty players and owners.

“The team’s news conference was ill-conceived and poorly presented. It was a horrible performance that has actually made the situation worse for the Astros.”

Mike Androvett, who owns a public relations, marketing and advertising firm that works with attorneys in Dallas and Houston, said the news conference failed to put the past to rest and, instead, “reinforced that the 2017 World Series win will likely be forever tainted.”

[…]

Marjorie Ingall with the website sorrywatch.com, which tracks and rates messages of public contrition, said the Astros news conference “was spectacular in its horridness. It’s the way not to apologize. It’s every example of terrible corporate policy.”

Among Crane’s failures during his news conference, Ingall said, was refusing to acknowledge the damage the Astros inflicted on their opponents.

“You have to apologize to the people you’ve harmed,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not really apologizing.”

She did, however, have good words for Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who began his remarks in the clubhouse with the phrase, “We were wrong for everything we did in 2017.”

“That’s the first sentence of a good apology: ‘We were wrong,’” Ingall said.

Well, maybe the worst is now over. Gotta think positive, right? Sports Illustrated has more.

“You guys Codebreaking?”

You thought the Astros sign stealing saga was over? It’s not over.

Did not age well

Roughly four weeks ago, Major League Baseball disciplined the Houston Astros for what commissioner Rob Manfred called the “banging scheme.” The Astros were busted illegally stealing signs in 2017 and 2018. The scheme involved banging a nearby trash can to relay the signs to the hitter at the plate.

Here is a recap of Houston’s punishment:

  • $5 million fine (maximum allowed by MLB Constitution)
  • Manager A.J, Hinch suspended one year (he was then fired)
  • GM Jeff Luhnow suspended one year (he was also fired)
  • Top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021 forfeited

In his nine-page report detailing the investigation, Manfred explained the Astros stole signs illegally throughout their 2017 World Series season and early in 2018 as well. The report says the investigation “revealed no evidence to suggest that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme.” There appears to be more to the story, however.

According to a bombshell report by the Wall Street Journal‘s Jared Diamond, Manfred sent Luhnow a letter 11 days before the discipline was announced saying “there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew — and overwhelming evidence that you should have known — that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB’s rules.”

Diamond reports an intern showed Luhnow an algorithm used to decode signs in September 2016. The spreadsheet, nicknamed “Codemaker,” was fairly rudimentary — someone would manually input the sign sequence and the pitch, and the algorithm would decipher the pattern — but illegal nonetheless. The system was also referred to internally as the team’s “dark arts.”

The Astros used Codebreaker to decode signs during home and road games, according to Diamond, and the information was passed on to the dugout. As Manfred detailed in his report, the information was initially used by runners at second base. Eventually the Astros started banging on garbage cans to cut out the middle man and relay signs even with the bases empty.

See here and here for some background. There’s more:

Among the other details that have come to light:

  • The use of Codebreaker continued into 2018 and not just at home games, but also on the road. Until this point, it was assumed that the Astros only used their system at home. This story suggests they used at least some version of it on the road.
  • Luhnow, however, told MLB that he thought the use of Codebreaker was only for decoding signs after games, not in real-time.
  • The Codebreaker system was developed by Derek Vigoa, then an intern and now the Astros’ senior manager for team operations.
  • Tom Koch-Weser, the team’s director of advance information, plays a central role in this latest story. He told MLB investigators Luhnow would “giggle” at the name “Codebreaker.” Koch-Weser said Luhnow would sometimes say, “You guys Codebreaking?” when he came to the Astros video room during road games. Luhnow denied this to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Koch-Weser would often call the system the Astros’ “dark arts,” according to e-mails obtained by MLB. He said once in a team Slack channel, referring to Luhnow: “I know the secrets that made us a championship team, some of which he[’]d definitely feel a lot safer if they were kept in-house.”
  • Another Astros front-office staffer Matt Hogan told MLB investigators that no one tried to hide their actions from Luhnow. “It would have been something to show we were working and get validation of our work,” Hogan told investigators.
  • Luhnow was updated via e-mail by many in the front office about Codebreaker, the investigation shows, however Luhnow’s defense was that he didn’t read the full e-mails.
  • Regardless of Luhnow’s claim he didn’t know about any of this, Manfred’s letter said, “there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew—and overwhelming evidence that you should have known—that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB’s rules.”

I’m not sure what’s worse at this point, the new details about how entrenched in the organization this all was – you saw that this was happening on the road, too, right? – or how pathetically incomplete the Manfred report was. We can think of it as more like the Barr-summary-of-the-Mueller-report rather than the real report, because as before, it pointed us in a totally wrong direction. We need to be asking Rob Manfred a lot of questions about this.

The Journal states that the league’s evidence included knowledge of the existence of Codebreaker, yet the league’s report completely omits it and exonerates Astros non-uniformed personnel. The league’s report also somewhat pointedly omits any mention of actions prior to 2017, even though Manfred apparently knew about the Codebreaker implementation and that program’s 2016 origins.

Why?

Why did MLB not punish any personnel besides Lunhow? The intern who reportedly originally presented Codebreaker to Lunhow, Derek Vigoa, is now Houston’s senior director of team operations. For that matter, why has nothing become of Kevin Goldstein, who according to a report from Jeff Passan asked his scouts to point their cameras into other teams’ dugouts? That information became public before the conclusion of the league’s investigation. Is the front office-driven nature of the scheme the reason that AJ Hinch never put a stop to the banging?

Beyond that, what happened in 2018 when the use of Codebreaker stopped? Was it because there was a better system implemented, and was there front office-driven cheating in 2019? Tom Verducci point-blank asked Hinch whether there was truth to the rumors that the Astros used buzzers to convey signs during the interview that aired tonight on MLB Network. Hinch stated that the league found that no buzzers were used (h/t to Brendan Kuty for transcribing the full exchange). That’s not exactly a “no.”

It’s also worth noting that the Journal states that the aforementioned euphemism “dark arts” was used in the Advance Scouting Department’s 2019 budgeting spreadsheet. Is that a reference to the initiative Goldstein proposed, a new sign-stealing scheme, or something else entirely?

A lot of things about this whole story never added up. Why didn’t Hinch ever flat-out tell the players to cut it out? Why didn’t they get the message when he went as far as to smash the monitors, and did so twice? How could Luhnow – and owner Jim Crane, for that matter – not know about any of this?

The picture is becoming clearer now. We still need more information, and the question of Crane’s knowledge of these matters is still not satisfyingly resolved. But for some reason, MLB decided to conceal this side of the story, and decided to leave everything that happened before 2017 out of the report. Baseball deliberately shielded everyone in the Astros’ front office besides Jeff Luhnow.

Rob Manfred needs to tell us why.

Yes, he does. Also, maybe people need to ask AJ Hinch some more questions, too. We’re about to find out the fate of the Red Sox, as well as MLB’s plan for avoiding this kind of scandal in the future. My advice is to treat this in the same way the large organizations that are serious about cybersecurity treat that threat to their business: Hire people whose mission it is to monitor for this activity in real time, who proactively review past data for signs of misbehavior, and who use intel and other techniques to hunt for bad actors and actions proactively. I’m sure MLB already has cybersecurity experts on their payroll. They need to take that to the next step and treat this as a threat to their business, because it is. Rob Arthur and ESPN have more.

Lawsuit filed over sign stealing effect on fantasy baseball

This ought to be interesting.

Major League Baseball (MLB) teams secretly distorted player statistics and deprived fans of an “honest fantasy baseball competition,” a lawsuit filed by a fan alleges in the fallout to a sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox.

The lawsuit, which named MLB, the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox as defendants, was filed in a Manhattan federal court on behalf of all fans who participated in DraftKings’ fantasy baseball contests, which plaintiff Kristopher Olson claimed were tainted by the sign-stealing scandal.

“At the very least, all of DraftKings’ fantasy baseball contests from early in the 2017 baseball season through the end of the 2018 regular season and into the 2019 season, were tainted by cheating and compromised, at the expense of DraftKings’ contestants,” according to the filing on Thursday.

DraftKings’ fantasy sports and betting operations are big business; it said in December it would go public this year in a deal putting its value at $3.3 billion.

The complaint claimed MLB has actively promoted fantasy baseball competition through its equity stake in fantasy sports and gambling company DraftKings.

CBS News and ClassAction.org have more details about the lawsuit if you want a deeper dive. I don’t play fantasy sports, but the basic idea is you draft a team, you designate which players “start” in a given game that is actually being played, and you get points based on the statistical performance of your players in those games. The idea here is that pitchers on fantasy teams who were designated to start against the Astros did worse than they would have because of the sign stealing, and since MLB knew about the sign stealing and didn’t do anything about it at the time, while they were also promoting and profiting from fantasy baseball, they were essentially defrauding the fantasy team owners. It seems a bit of a stretch to me, but there’s real money at stake. It’s also pretty clear that there’s more to the sign stealing story than what has been made public so far, and if this suit is allowed to proceed there’s a good chance we’ll learn a lot more about what really happened. So I’m very interested to see what happens.

We have an Astros apology

From a former player, not a current player. It’s still something.

Dallas Keuchel

Twelve days later, an apology appeared on the south side of Chicago, from a bearded face that was constant throughout the Astros’ now-ruined renaissance.

“Was it against the rules? Yes it was,” Dallas Keuchel said. “And I personally am sorry for what’s come about the whole situation.”

Keuchel, now a member of the White Sox, became the first Astros player past or present to formally acknowledge and apologize for the electronic sign-stealing scandal that’s rocked the sport and cost four men their jobs.

The 2015 Cy Young winner spoke Friday at White Sox FanFest, directly addressing many topics his former Astros teammates have avoided. Keuchel, who left Houston as a free agent after the 2018 season, was an All-Star who threw 1452/3 innings during the 2017 World Series-winning season.

“It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point in time,” Keuchel said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “… It is what it is, and we’ve got to move past that. I never thought anything would’ve come like it did. I, myself, am sorry.”

Of the five current Astros players who’ve spoken since Major League Baseball released its findings Jan. 13, none have expressed remorse or assumed any culpability. Owner Jim Crane said this week he expects the team to come together at spring training, discuss its next steps and perhaps issue “a strong statement” of apology.

“First and foremost I think apologies should be in order for, if not everybody on the team,” Keuchel said. “It was never intended to be what it is made to be right now. I think when stuff comes out about things that happen over the course of a major-league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of ‘Oh, my gosh, this has never happened before.’”

Keuchel said that he’s spoken to some of his former Astros teammates and reported “there is sorrow in some guys’ voices.”

Most, Keuchel said, are unhappy at Mike Fiers’ decision to speak on the record about the ploy to The Athletic in November. Fiers’ on-record account was the catalyst for MLB’s investigation.

“A lot of guys are not happy with the fact that Mike came out and said something or the fact that this even happened,” Keuchel said. “But at the same time, there is some sorrow in guys’ voices. I have talked to guys before and this will be going on for a long time and I’m sure in the back of guys minds this’ll stay fresh.”

I mean, was that so hard? It’s not even that abject, doesn’t really admit wrongdoing, but it at least acknowledges that an apology is called for. Keuchel gets a bit of a discount, for being a pitcher and thus not a beneficiary of the banging scheme, and for being a former Astro, but if you start from there and are sincere about it, what you end up with should be fine. But the longer this drags on, the less it will mean. Don’t keep us waiting.

Is there an Astros apology coming?

Maybe.

Did not age well

A “strong statement” of apology could be forthcoming from the Astros players involved in electronic sign-stealing during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, owner Jim Crane said Tuesday.

In response to interviews given by Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman on Saturday at FanFest, Crane said his players are “just getting some advice to take it easy.”

Neither Altuve nor Bregman addressed specifics of the sign-stealing scheme — one Major League Baseball determined was “player-driven” — nor did they accept culpability for the fallout when presented the option. Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired after the league released its investigative findings.

“When we get down to spring training, we’ll all get them together and they’ll come out with a strong statement as a team and, I think, apologize for what happened and move forward,” Crane said Tuesday prior to the Houston Sports Awards.

Crane said the players who’ve spoken have been “holding back a bit” and are apparently awaiting spring training to formulate a response.

“Everyone is split up. It’s a team,” Crane said. “We’re going to sit in a room and talk about it, then we’ll come out and address the press. All of them will address the press, either as a group or individually. Quite frankly, we’ll apologize for what happened, ask for forgiveness and move forward.”

You know my opinion. I just hope that if and when they do offer an apology, it’s genuine and heartfelt and not one of those “if anyone was offended” abominations. Better to fully embrace being the heel than to half-ass it, that’s my advice. Joe Holley has more.

You can’t move on from something you haven’t faced up to

That’s not how it works.

Did not age well

Neither Jose Altuve nor Alex Bregman, two principal players on a 2017 team that executed what Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “player-driven and player-executed” system to violate baseball’s rules and defraud the game, chose Saturday to address specifics of a nine-page report on the scandal that led to the dismissal of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.

If there is remorse and apology, that will come later, perhaps next month after the ballclub gathers at West Palm Beach, Fla, for spring training. But for the moment, if there are fences to be mended, feelings to be reconciled or trust to be regained, Astros fans apparently will be left to their own devices.

Until the players speak, the focus of the Astros’ efforts to cope with and move past what some have described as baseball’s worst performance-related scandal in a century remains on owner Jim Crane, who made the decision last Monday to fire Hinch and Luhnow rather than settle for the suspensions imposed by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

By firing his manager and general manaager, said Gene Grabowski, a principal with the public relations firm kglobal, the Astros have made the appropriate sacrifice for their sins to the Lords of Baseball.

“They have thrown the virgin into the volcano,” Grabowski said.

With that, he said, the most important task facing Astros management is to move ahead, as Crane has done by apologizing to season ticket holders, contacting sponsors and receiving what he described as messages of continued support.

“You have to get past this,” Grabowski said.

[…]

Astros alumni Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman also emphasized the need to look ahead.

“When I get a spanking from my dad, he doesn’t quit loving me and I don’t quit being his son,” Berkman said. “The Astros aren’t going to stop being part of Major League Baseball. You have to accept the punishment and move on.

“This is a clean organization. This is not a dirty organization. This is not a tricky organization. All these things notwithstanding, this is a great organization, and I think it will continue to be.”

Bagwell agreed with Altuve that it’s too early for players to react to the specific charges outlined in the commissioner’s report.

“Everyone is still trying to wrap their heads around it,” he said.

Others, however, favor a more direct approach. Jeff Van Gundy, the former Rockets coach who now works for ESPN, said the forgiving nature of Houston fans and the old saw that confession is good for the soul would be a better avenue than silence.

“You don’t have to get into specifics, but you can say, ‘I’m sorry for the role that I played in this, and I promise the Astros fans that not only will I promise not to do it again, I won’t tolerate anybody else doing it,’ ” Van Gundy said.

While some fans will scoff at the idea that players did anything wrong by violating the rules in a sport where competition is everything and winning is the only thing, Van Gundy said, “The earlier you deal with it, the more forthright you are, the better.

“Saying ‘I screwed up’ is the hardest thing to do. But it’s the simplest way to be forgiven.”

I’m with Van Gundy here. Look, the main thing we know here is that other than then-coach Alex Cora, the whole “banging scheme” was player-devised and player-driven. Yet for a variety of understandable if debatable reasons, MLB chose to punish only the manager and GM. This has not only left the public wanting players to be held accountable as well, it’s also left every member of the Astros team from 2017 and 2018 under a cloud. That cloud isn’t going anywhere until the players themselves talk about their own role in what happened, whether as a ringleader, beneficiary of the scheme, or just someone who didn’t care for it but didn’t speak up about it. This isn’t complicated. The Astros themselves can feel however they want about all this, but if they want other people to move on, they need to own what they did and apologize for it.

Luhnnow and Hinch suspended by MLB, then fired by Astros

Wow.

Did not age well

Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday shortly after Major League Baseball announced the pair would be suspended for a year as part of the penalties for the investigation into alleged electronic-sign stealing.

“Today is a very difficult day for the Houston Astros,” Astros owner Jim Crane said in a press conference Monday. “MLB did a very thorough investigation and the Astros fully cooperated and we accept their decisions and findings and penalties.”

The franchise also was stripped of its first- and second-round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined $5 million.

MLB’s report detailed the Astros’ efforts to steal signs in 2017 and laid out the punishment handed down to the Astros. Crane opted to go a step further.

“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise,” Crane said.

Well, at least the Astros found a way to make everyone forget about the Texans’ playoff disaster. The full report is embedded in the story, and it’s not long, so go read the whole thing. (Or just read the highlights here, but really, read the whole thing.) I’d say this was on the high end of what I thought might happen, but it’s not out of line with my expectations. The key is that the activity continued to occur after the 2017 Red Sox Apple Watch incident, in which Commissioner Manfred (the author of the report) explicitly promised strong punishment if anyone was caught doing stuff like that again. If I’m Alex Cora, who was directly named as a mastermind behind the scheme and is now the manager of another team under investigation I’m probably not sleeping well right now. We can debate at length whether this was fitting or not, or if any punishment is worth winning a World Series, or just put on some oven mitts and read Twitter about it. Let’s just say 2020 is off to a rough start for Houston sports fans.

This also wrapped up the Brandon Taubman investigation – he too was suspended for a year, and will have to apply to the Commissioner’s office for reinstatement. He was also singled out in the report for some sharp rebukes. I’ll be thinking about all this for some time. The Press has more.

UPDATE: This did not age well.

Allegations of electronic sign-stealing “surprised” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who acknowledged Saturday he has participated in and cooperated with Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into his team.

Appearing at an autograph show alongside Alex Bregman and George Springer, Correa offered the most elaborate comments of any Houston player since the scandal broke last November.

Correa expressed little worry about the organization’s reputation and no thought the 2017 World Series title is in any way tainted. He revealed subtle antipathy toward former teammate Mike Fiers, whose on-the-record allegations about the 2017 team’s actions spurred the investigation.

“He’s a grown man, and he can do whatever he wants to do. It’s a free country,” Correa said. “Knowing Fiers, it was surprising, because we were a team. We were a team. We were all together, and we had a bond, and we won a World Series championship. But this is America, the land of the free. You can say what you want to say.”

I’d say at least a little worry about the team’s reputation is in order at this time. There’s no evidence to suggest that the sign stealing actually benefited the Astros, but that doesn’t matter. Fair or not, this scandal will forever be associated with that title.

It’s not just the Astros

Oh, boy.

The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988. They have only appeared in the World Series twice since then, in 2017 and 2018.

Both teams that beat them — the Houston Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018 — now are under investigation by Major League Baseball over allegations they improperly using technology to steal signs.

During the 2018 regular season, according to a story posted by the Athletic on Tuesday, the Red Sox visited the replay room during games to review signs flashed by opposing teams.

“It’s cheating,” one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox told the Athletic. “Because if you’re using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn’t have to steal it.”

The league monitored replay rooms during the 2018 postseason, making it unlikely the Red Sox would have been able to use the system during the World Series.

The Red Sox said in a statement Tuesday: “We were recently made aware of allegations suggesting the inappropriate use of our video replay room. We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with MLB as they investigate the matter.”

See here and here for the most recent updates on the Astro investigation. As a Yankees fan, I’m torn between stifling a giggle, and lighting a thousand candles in the fervent hope that my team isn’t the next one in the barrel. I can believe that some teams may have been doing this more (and more egregiously) than others, but I have no trouble believing that most if not all of them were at least dipping a toe into this kind of illegal activity. In the meantime, Astros fans, enjoy the schadenfreude while you can.

The robo-umps are coming

Not right away, but you can see it from here.

Computer plate umpires could be called up to the major leagues at some point during the next five seasons.

Umpires agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball in the development and testing of an automated ball-strike system as part of a five-year labor contract announced Saturday, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association also agreed to cooperate and assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because those details of the deal, which is subject to ratification by both sides, had not been announced.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on July 10. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

The Atlantic League experimented with the computer system during the second half of its season, and the Arizona Fall League of top prospects used it for a few dozen games this year at Salt River Fields.

MLB has discussed installing the system at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. If that test goes well, the computer umps could be used at Triple-A in 2021 as bugs are dealt with prior to a big league callup.

[…]

It is not clear whether the Major League Baseball Players Association would need to approve computerized ball and strikes.

“We are aware the umpires and MLB are in negotiations over a new CBA,” said players’ union head Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman. “MLB will have their negotiation with them, and they will need to discuss with us.”

See here for the background. Everyone agrees that robot umps are coming, at least for ball/strike calls, we’re all just arguing about the timeline. One of the things we’ve learned from the Atlantic League’s experience, is that the low-and-away part of the rulebook strike zone is generally not called a strike by human umpires but is by the robo-umps, and there’s a good argument that the automated system should be adjusted to be more like the human umps. Another thing we’ve learned is that accurate height data for the players is needed, else the automated zone, which is calculated based on those measurements, is not a true reflection of what it should be. There are still refinements to be made, and there’s no rush to get there. I’ll be a little surprised if we have this system in place in five years, but I’ll be even more surprised if we don’t in ten years.

A “most thorough” investigation

Here’s an Astros update for you.

The ongoing electronic sign-stealing investigation against the Astros is “probably the most thorough” ever conducted by the commissioner’s office, Rob Manfred said Wednesday.

Addressing reporters during the final full day of the winter meetings, Manfred said his office has interviewed more than 60 witnesses, has 76,000 emails through which to sift and “an additional trove of instant messages.”

“That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing,” Manfred said. “It is my hope to conclude the investigation just as promptly as possible, but it’s just really hard to predict how long something like that is going to take.”

[…]

Maintaining a stance he’s taken since the query began, Manfred declined to elaborate on possible punishments, calling such predictions “wholly inappropriate.” A timeline for the investigation’s conclusion remains a mystery, though follow-up interviews suggest it could drag longer into the winter.

“I’m going to get all the facts in front of me and make a decision as promptly as possible on discipline and, obviously, you all will know about it as soon as it happens.”

See here for the last update. As a reminder, this is two investigations in one, the sign-stealing allegations and the Brandon Taubman debacle. I have to assume MLB will wrap this up during the off-season, but beyond that we have no idea how long this will take. We’ll know when they’re ready to tell us something.

Don’t shrink the minor leagues

Bad idea, MLB.

Last month, we learned that Major League Baseball proposed a radical reorganization of the minor leagues, involving slashing the number of teams by 25 percent — mostly short-season and rookie ball clubs. The New York Times has reported which teams specifically are on the chopping block, 42 in total. [UpdateBill Madden of the New York Daily News reported more details this morning. It is certainly worth a read.]

It isn’t for a lack of interest that MLB wants to hemorrhage MiLB teams. As The Athletic’s Emily Waldon notes, 2019 was the 15th consecutive season in which 40 million-plus fans attended minor league games. 2019 saw an attendance increase of 2.6 percent over the previous year. Waldon also points out that 2019 saw the ninth-highest single-season attendance total in the history of the industry.

MLB’s suggestion to shrink the minor leagues comes on the heels of increased public pressure to improve the pay and conditions of the players. MLB successfully lobbied Congress to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying players as seasonal workers thus they are no longer entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, among other protections. As a result, more players have become vocal about the lack of pay and more reporting has been done on the issue, creating a bit of a P.R. problem for the league. Slashing the minor leagues would allow MLB, whose individual teams are responsible for the overhead of their minor league affiliates, to publicly say they improved pay while not actually costing them much money, if any at all. MiLB president Pat O’Conner foreshadowed this nearly two years ago, by the way.

[…]

Beyond the very obvious effect of eliminating upwards of 1,000 minor league baseball player positions, scores of related jobs would be eliminated as well, such as those of the minor league front offices, clubhouse personnel, ticket-takers, security, concessions, memorabilia stores, umpires, and many more. Many cities would lose an integral part of their local economies and cultures.

Perhaps most importantly, if the minor leagues were to be shrunk, many fans would lose access to professional baseball. If, for instance, you are a baseball fan who lives in Billings, Montana, the three closest major league teams to you are the Seattle Mariners (west), Colorado Rockies (south), and Minnesota Twins (east). The Mariners are about a 12-hour drive, the Rockies about seven and a half hours, and the Twins about 12 hours. But Billings has a minor league team: the Mustangs, a Pioneer League rookie affiliate of the Reds. Montana has two other minor league teams on the chopping block as well: the Missoula PaddleHeads (Diamondbacks advanced rookie) and the Great Falls Voyagers (White Sox advanced rookie). The minor leagues, for fans in certain areas of the country like Montana, are one of the few local connections to the sport. Eliminating those teams would sever those connections and drastically reduce the chance to create new baseball fans in that region.

As this piece notes, the Astros were pioneers in this, reducing their number of affiliates from nine to seven in recent years. Look, we know that the vast majority of minor leaguers never get close to the bigs. The MLB draft runs for forty rounds, and then they sign undrafted free agents, and that’s before we take into account the large number of international players that are outside the draft system that MLB signs. Most minor leaguers are there to fill out the teams so the real prospects can actually play regular games. But not every major leaguer was a prospect (see: Altuve, Jose, for one example) and as noted, the minor leagues have a ton of value on their own. MLB could very easily afford to pay every single existing minor leaguer a living wage (say, a minimum of $30K per year) and not even notice the payroll increase. The cost in shrinking the minors and making live professional baseball completely unavailable to vast swaths of the country far outweighs any cost savings. C’mon, MLB. For once, can you see that doing the right thing is also the better choice for you? Pinstripe Alley has more.

UPDATE: More as well from Baseball America and Fangraphs.

MLB investigating more than 2017 for Astros’ alleged sign stealing

This sounds ominous.

Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Astros’ alleged sign-stealing will include the 2018 and 2019 seasons, commissioner Rob Manfred revealed Thursday, adding two more years to an inquiry already involving Houston’s World Series-winning 2017 team.

“We are talking to people all over the industry, former employees, competitors, whatever,” Manfred said at the conclusion of the owners meetings on Thursday. “To the extent that we find other leads, we are going to follow these leads. We will get to the bottom of what we have out there in terms of what went on to the extent that it’s humanly possible.”

[…]

“Every time we’ve gotten a lead, we chased that lead down to the extent we felt was investigatively possible,” Manfred said. “Obviously, an individual breaking what is a pretty firm commitment to silence about what goes on in dugouts and clubhouses is a big break in an investigation and an opportunity to push forward that we hadn’t had previously.”

The expanded investigation into sign-stealing is being combined with MLB’s other probe into the Astros for comments made by former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman and the team’s response.

[…]

Manfred clarified Thursday that the league’s investigation into Taubman and sign-stealing started independently of one another and “ended up as one big thing.”

“It’s hard to separate them out,” Manfred said. “I hope at the end of this undertaking, I’ll put both of these issues to bed at one time.”

See here and here for the background on the sign-stealing, and here for some background on the Taubman investigation. It makes sense to combine the two – if nothing else, I presume MLB has only so many investigators available at any one time – though what effect that may have on its direction or timeline is unknown. Of greater interest is what kind of penalties the Astros may face. Craig Edwards from Fangraphs takes a look. There’s too much to easily summarize (go click over, the first paragraph has links to more reporting on the sign stealing allegations), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t look great for the Astros. If Rob Manfred comes down on them, it’s going to leave a mark. Be prepared. ESPN has more.

MLB has had its eye on the Astros

The story develops.

Early in the 2019 season, Major League Baseball instructed video monitors working in Minute Maid Park to listen for banging sounds emanating from the Astros’ dugout, a person with knowledge of the directive said Monday.

The Astros are alleged to have stolen signs during their World Series-winning season of 2017 using a system that included players banging on trash cans to signal certain pitches. That MLB directed those working at Minute Maid Park to listen for such sounds is an indication the league already had an eye on Houston.

Conversely, a video monitor who worked in another American League ballpark told the Chronicle they were not “implicitly told” to listen for any sounds from either dugout.

MLB began investigating the Astros last week after former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers outlined how the team stole signs in 2017, using a camera in center field and a video screen in the tunnel next to the dugout, then banging on trash cans.

[…]

The Athletic’s report detailed alleged wrongdoing in 2017 only. Whether the Astros continued their practices into 2018 or 2019 remains unconfirmed. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he was “confident that in general, we did things right and we try and follow the rules.”

The team has said it is cooperating with MLB’s investigation.

“Beginning in the 2017 season, numerous clubs expressed general concerns that other clubs were stealing their signs,” MLB said last week. “As a result of those concerns, and after receiving extensive input from the general managers, we issued a revised policy on sign stealing prior to the 2019 season. We also put in place detailed protocols and procedures to provide comfort to clubs that other clubs were not using video during the game to decode and steal signs.”

Part of that revised policy included a group of video monitors at each ballpark responsible for ensuring clubs adhered to the new regulations. Each game last regular season had at least one person around both the home and visiting dugouts monitoring the replay room, clubhouse, tunnel and any other area.

“What they told us was we were essentially looking for people who were using technology to steal signs,” said one video monitor.

One person familiar with the Astros’ video monitoring said those who worked at Minute Maid Park were instructed “early on” to “make sure there was no one in the dugout banging.”

See here for the background. We don’t know the extent of what may or may not have happened yet, and MLB hasn’t said when their investigation will end. What we do know is that if MLB does conclude the Astros were breaking the rules, the penalties could be harsh.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has “no reason to believe” Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into electronic sign-stealing will involve any club aside from the Astros — a franchise that could feel the full authority of Manfred’s power under the major league constitution.

Manfred has levied only one public punishment for electronic sign-stealing — an undisclosed fine to the Boston Red Sox during the 2017 season. That same year, the Astros are alleged to have electronically stolen signs with a center-field camera at Minute Maid Park, actions that are now the center of MLB’s investigation.

“Any allegation that relates to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Manfred said Tuesday. “It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active, what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. Beyond that, I can’t tell you how close we are to done.”

When he issued the fine to the Red Sox in 2017, Manfred warned any future violations were subject to “more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

MLB’s most recent revised policy on sign-stealing promised “progressive discipline” for rule-breakers, “including fines, suspensions, and penalties or loss of benefits.” The benefits, according to the policy, included draft picks and international signing penalties.

“I’m not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is,” Manfred said. “That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning that I issued to the clubs I stand by. It certainly could be all those things, but my authority under the major league constitution could be broader than those things as well.”

Nothing to do but wait and see. Who says the offseason is dull?

Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that the Astros stole signs electronically at Minute Maid Park during their World Series-winning 2017 season, adding another inglorious instance to the franchise’s recent run of cheating accusations.

The Astros have begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball, the club said in a statement on Tuesday. It’s unclear if this investigation is independent of the ongoing one involving the firing of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

Citing three anonymous sources along with an on-record interview and confirmation from Fiers, The Athletic reported the Astros had a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park fixated on the opposing catcher. A television located below the dugout showed the feed. Players watched the catcher and soon were able to detect what was coming, sometimes banging trash cans to alert hitters.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

[…]

Using technology to steal signs is against major league rules. The Red Sox were fined in 2017 after the Yankees filed a complaint against them. Major League Baseball discovered they were “sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.”

In his ruling that year, commissioner Rob Manfred said “all 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Whether the Astros will be punished remains to be seen. Major League Baseball still has an open investigation against the franchise as a result of Taubman’s tirade against female reporters following the American League Championship Series.

Here’s the Athletic story. It’s a pay site, but you can sign up for a free seven-day trial if you want to read the whole thing. This NJ.com story has a couple of excerpts, including this one that explains how the scheme allegedly worked:

The Astros’ set-up in 2017 was not overly complicated. A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway. When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming. Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A’s, what the Astros were doing.

Twitter user and video genius Jomboy illustrated this with a live example. The pitcher in that clip, Danny Farquhar, noticed the banging noises and is quoted about it in the Athletic story. Jomboy has subsequent examples here, here, and here.

The key to all this is the allegation that cameras were used, as it is the use of technology to steal signs that is illegal. If the MLB investigation bears that out, expect the Astros to suffer stronger punishment than what was meted out to the Red Sox in 2017, since Commissioner Rob Manfred has emphasized that this is illegal. As the Athletic story notes, while the Astros are under investigation, using tech to steal signs is a league-wide problem, with other teams also under suspicion. Expect to hear a lot more about this over the next few weeks. Jerome Solomon, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Press have more.

Firing Taubman wasn’t enough

Just putting down a marker.

Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Astros will stretch beyond the World Series as the league looks into “aspects that go beyond” Brandon Taubman’s clubhouse incident.

Taubman was fired on Thursday, five days after he unleashed a profanity-filled tirade toward three female reporters in the Astros’ clubhouse following the American League Championship Series.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday the Astros “reacted quickly and in an appropriate way” with their decision to terminate Taubman, the team’s 34-year-old assistant general manager. Manfred said results of the ongoing investigation “will be public.”

Manfred said his office began its current investigation because it was “concerned” about the Astros’ initial statement in response to the incident, one that falsely claimed Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein “attempted to fabricate” Taubman’s actions.

[…]

After the two exchanged unreturned voicemails earlier in the day, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and Apstien met for about 15 minutes at Nationals Park on Friday night. Apstein requested a written retraction of the team’s first statement. It is unclear if the Astros will oblige.

On Thursday, Luhnow repeatedly declined to reveal who wrote or approved the statement. The general manager acknowledged he saw the 76-word writeup before it was released. The Athletic reported on Friday that Anita Sehgal, the team’s senior vice president of marketing and communication, oversaw it.

See here and here for the background. Let me remind you, that first statement by the Astros accused reporter Stephanie Apstein of making the whole thing up. If even a little bit of that were true, her career would be over. It’s not just that the Astros were completely wrong about that, it’s that they didn’t care enough to be concerned about it before going ahead and smearing her. The Astros did finally formally retract that statement, five whole days later. To say the least, we are here now because that statement was issued in the first place, then left to fester for the entire work week.

Let’s be clear: This wasn’t a slip-up committed by some underpaid low-level employee. General Manager Jeff Luhnow saw that statement before it was released. The senior vice president of marketing and communication, Anita Sehgal, oversaw and thus presumably approved it. Brandon Taubman is deservedly unemployed now, but he’s far from the only sinner here. The Astros didn’t have a Brandon Taubman problem. They have a whole-organization problem. That remains true even with that apology and retraction from Jim Crane to Stephanie Apstein. That’s MLB’s problem now, and I hope they are considering that as they do their investigation.

After I started writing this post, I came across this story, which notes the Crane letter to Apstein and moves things along a little bit.

How Houston’s original statement was crafted remains vague. Who wrote it remains a mystery. Senior vice president of marketing and communications Anita Sehgal refused to “name names” in a six-minute interview with three reporters prior to Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday.

“This statement really is owned by the entire organization,” Sehgal said. “This team needs to wear this statement. We screwed up. And we’re going to own it as a team. We’re going to share responsibility for it and we’re not going to point fingers at any one person. We’re going to own it as a team. And that’s the right decision.”

The Athletic reported this week that Sehgal, an Astros employee since 2015, had oversight of the statement. Asked if that report was true, Sehgal said “I oversee all of (public relations) and communications. Lots of people were involved.”

“Listen, this statement was wrong and it was wrong on a number of fronts,” Sehgal said. “It’s disappointing. It’s embarrassing for the organization and we are very, very sorry that it happens. But the team owns it. The entire organization owns the decision that that statement went out. We’ve apologized. We’ve recognized it. And we feel really, really bad.”

That’s better, and it’s good that she recognizes this is owned by the whole organization, but it doesn’t address the question of how the whole organization should be held accountable. Again: Jeff Luhnow and Anita Sehgal have responsibility for the original statement. Likely other senior executives do as well, not to mention Jim Crane. Firing Brandon Taubman doesn’t get all of them off the hook as well. What, if anything, are we going to do about that? I’ll be honest and admit I don’t know what a just outcome to all this should be, but the Astros and MLB need to figure it out. This will remain a stain on the Astros organization until they do.

Is MLB expansion on the menu?

Before I answer the question in the headline, let me say Congratulations to the Astros, the first team ever to win the pennant in both leagues. (The Brewers, who won the AL flag in 1982, is the only other team to switch leagues, and thus the only other candidate to join that club.) And if the possible expansion plan goes forward, that may become moot as there would no longer be separate leagues.

Ever since the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005, there has been an ongoing movement in the Canadian city to regain a major league franchise. There has even been talk of support for building a ballpark downtown, which was one of the missing ingredients that led to the Expos’ departure.

In September, the folks in Portland, Ore., were given hope that they, too, could be home to an expansion team when commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking in Seattle, for the second year in a row mentioned Portland as a potential site for a franchise, and was quoted as saying “a team in the West” would be a part of any expansion.

And there is a legitimate ownership group in Portland that has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant. Approved by the state of Oregon to help finance a stadium when efforts were underway in 2003 to be the site for the relocation of the Expos (who instead moved to Washington, D.C.), the grant is still available.

There seems to be a building consensus that baseball will soon be headed to a 32-team configuration. It will lead to major realignment and adjustments in schedule, which will allow MLB to address the growing concerns of the union about travel demands and off days.

One proposal would be to geographically restructure into four divisions, which would create a major reduction in travel, particularly for teams on the East Coast and West Coast, and add to the natural rivalries by not just having them as interleague attractions, but rather a part of the regular divisional battles.

Click over to read the details, which include a slightly shorter (156-game) schedule, less travel, more days off, and eight wild card teams, who would have to win a play-in game to continue on. Kind of amazing to hear talk of expansion, let alone back to Montreal, a mere 15 years after “contraction” was the buzzword, but here we are, and I’m glad of it. There are many questions to be answered about this – for instance, would this finally mean universal adoption of the DH? – and no doubt a lot of opposition, as is always the case with sweeping change, but I look forward to the debate. SI, Travis Sawchik and Craig Calcaterra have more.

More about the hack of the Astros

Fascinating stuff.

A federal judge has unsealed details about former St. Louis Cardinals executive Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros’ email and player evaluation databases, clearing the way for Major League Baseball to impose sanctions against the Cardinals as soon as this week.

Three documents entered into court records but made public by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes on Thursday reveal new information regarding Correa’s intrusions, for which the former Cardinals scouting director is serving a 46-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty in January 2016 to five counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer.

[…]

According to the documents, portions of which remained redacted, Correa intruded into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database 48 times and accessed the accounts of five Astros employees. For 21/2 years, beginning in January 2012, Correa had unfettered access to the e-mail account of Sig Mejdal, the Astros’ director of decision sciences and a former Cardinals employee. Correa worked in St. Louis as an analyst under Mejdal, who came to Houston after the 2011 season with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, also a former Cardinals executive.

“(Correa) knew what projects the Astros’ analytics department was researching, what concepts were promising and what ideas to avoid,” said one of the documents, signed by Michael Chu, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case against Correa. “He had access to everything that Sig Mejdal … read and wrote.”

Correa also attempted to gain access to the accounts of Bo Porter, the Astros’ manager in 2013-14, and pitching coach Brent Strom, and he used passwords belonging to Luhnow, Astros analyst Colin Wyers, and three Astros minor league players to gain access to the Astros system, the documents show.

A third document includes a subpoena from Correa’s attorney to obtain documents from the Astros, based on Correa’s statement that he was combing the files looking for information taken from the Cardinals. Hughes denied the request, which sought access to emails from Mejdal, Luhnow and former Astros assistant GM David Stearns and analyst Mike Fast regarding a variety of topics, including Cardinals minor league pitching coach Tim Leveque, Cardinals assistant general manager Mike Girsch and the Cardinals’ player information database, known as RedBirdDog.

See here and here for some background. The sanctions have since been imposed – the Cardinals will give their top two draft choices and two million bucks to the Astros as redress – but it’s the details of what Correa did that are so riveting. Deadspin, which was a key player in this as well, elaborates:

The sentencing document also points to a motive beyond the obviously useful scouting data: Correa was furious and envious of Mejdal’s acclaim in a June 25, 2014 Sports Illustrated cover story about the Astros’ embrace of analytics, with the cover predicting them as the winners of the 2017 World Series.

The account the feds lay out reads like a downright sinister revenge plot by Correa: On June 27, two days after the SI cover story, Correa attempted, unsuccessfully, to log into Mejdal’s, Luhnow’s, and Wyers’s Ground Control accounts. He then tried to log in via the accounts of Astros pitching coach Brent Strom and Astros manager Bo Porter. Thwarted but not deterred, he tried another tactic.

[…]

The same day, June 28, Deadspin was emailed a tip from a burner email service that linked “to a document on AnonBin, a now-dead service for anonymously uploading and hosting text files.” On June 30, Deadspin published the contents of the document, which detailed the Astros’ trade discussions between June 2013 and March 2014.

A year later, Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky laid out the information we received, and why he believed we were the intended recipients. We had and have no additional information that indicates who the leaker was, and would not reveal the leaker’s identity if we knew it—as Petchesky later explained to an FBI investigator.

Regardless, the feds speculate that Correa himself emailed us the information.

Damn. I will watch the hell out of the eventual 30 for 30 documentary on this. The Press, Craig Calcaterra, and Jeff Sullivan, who thinks the Cardinals got off too lightly, have more.

Astros hacker sentenced to 46 months

Away he goes.

Former St. Louis Cardinals executive Christopher Correa was sentenced Monday to 46 months in prison for illegal incursions into the Astros’ computer database, wrapping up a case of sports-related cybercrime that a federal judge and prosecutors summed up as plain, old-fashioned theft.

Correa, 35, will report within two to six weeks to begin his sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, who accepted the government’s recommended sentence in the wake of Correa’s guilty plea in January to five counts of illegal access to a protected computer.

Now the case moves into the hands of Major League Baseball, where commissioner Rob Manfred will decide if the Cardinals will face sanctions because of Correa’s actions in 2013 and 2014.

Manfred also may be asked to consider a heretofore undisclosed element: that Correa intruded into the Astros’ system 60 times on 35 days, far more the five reported cases to which he pleaded guilty, according to an Astros official.

[…]

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said he was pleased with length of the sentence. Correa could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison on each count, although prosecutors agreed in return for his guilty plea that sentences would be served concurrently.

“This is a serious federal crime,” Magidson said. “It involves computer crime, cybercrime. We in the U.S. Attorney’s office look to all crimes that are being committed by computers to gain an unfair advantage. … This is a very serious offense, and obviously the court saw it as well.”

Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, who also attended the hearing, described Monday as a “sad day for baseball” and emphasized that the Astros were the victims of Correa’s unauthorized access into a computer database that included scouting reports and other information.

Referring to Correa’s statements in January, he added, “I don’t know what Mr. Correa saw in our system or what he thinks he saw in our system, but what I can tell you is that the Astros were not using Cardinals’ proprietary information.”

Kibbe, for the first time, also acknowledged that Correa’s intrusions into the Astros computer system were more frequently than the instances set out in the information to which he pleaded guilty – 60 intrusions over 35 days, he said, from March 2013 through June 2014.

He also said the Astros would rely on Major League Baseball to complete its investigation of the Cardinals, with the possibility of sanctions against the team.

“We have full faith in his actions,” he said, referring to MLB commissioner Manfred.

See here for the background. Correa had previously claimed to have found Cardinal information on the Astros’ system while he was hacking around. There could be some effect from that if there’s anything to it when MLB wraps up its investigation and imposes any sanctions on the Cards. In the meantime, I’d say this will serve as a pretty strong deterrent to any other baseball front office folks who may have been tempted to take an unsanctioned peek at what their rivals are doing. No one can say they haven’t been warned at this point.

Are we finally headed towards a universal DH?

Maybe.

Those in favor of the designated hitter becoming universal in Major League Baseball were given new reason for hope on Saturday.

Speaking at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warmup event on Saturday, general manager John Mozeliak says there’s increased momentum building among general managers and owners to bring the DH to the National League. According to Derrck Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak further noted the topic of the DH in the NL used to be a “non-starter” with officials, but now it’s become more of a topic, which perhaps indicates actual movement within those ranks.

Mozeliak, of course, is privy to such conversations, so this isn’t just hearsay. It’s likely he has an increased interest in this topic now considering what happened to his ace, Adam Wainwright, last season.

During a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee in April, Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles after taking an awkward step out of the batter’s box. Obviously, there’s an injury risk that comes with every pitch and every play, especially for pitchers, but for such an injury to happen while a pitcher is batting makes it a little more difficult to swallow. That’s especially true when the other league isn’t exposed to such risks on a regular basis because of the DH.

[…]

If the universal DH is truly gaining momentum, then it’s something [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred will have to take on head-on at some point during his tenure. At this point though, it seems like we’re still a good distance away from it gaining enough momentum to motivate change. If there’s a silver lining for DH backers though, it’s that it’s also difficult to see the tide ever shifting back in the other direction, meaning the universal DH is an inevitability at some point in baseball’s future.

As the story notes, Manfred has previously said that he wasn’t considering expanding the DH to both leagues, but if the owners want it – and the MLB Players Association will likely be on board as well, given that DH jobs pay better than bench or bullpen jobs – it’s going to happen eventually, maybe even in the next round of labor talks. With the virtual elimination of league presidents and the full-time interleague schedule, the “differences between the leagues” argument is getting thinner. Obviously, this is a religious issue for a lot of people, and as such I don’t expect it to go quietly, nor with too much haste. But it does appear that we are headed that way, however trudgingly. Craig Calcaterra and FanGraphs have more.

Astros-hacker pleads out

One chapter closes in of one of the stranger sagas I’ve seen in sports.

The former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to hacking into the player database and email system of the Houston Astros in an unusual case of high-tech cheating involving two Major League Baseball clubs.

Chris Correa pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer from 2013 to at least 2014, the same year he was promoted to director of baseball development in St. Louis. Correa, 35, was fired last summer and faces up to five years in prison on each charge when he is sentenced April 11.

“I accept responsibility in this case,” Correa told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes. “I trespassed repeatedly.”

“So you broke in their house?” Hughes asked Correa, referring to the Astros.

“It was stupid,” replied Correa, who is free on $20,000 bond.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said the hacking cost the Astros about $1.7 million, taking into account how Correa used the Astros’ data to draft players.

“It has to do with the talent that was on the record that they were able to have access to, that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” he told reporters. “They were watching what the Astros were doing.”

MLB could discipline the Cardinals, possibly with a fine or a loss of draft picks, but said only that it looked forward to getting details on the case from federal authorities. The Cardinals, whose chairman, Bill DeWitt Jr., had blamed the incident on “roguish behavior,” declined comment.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given that he pleaded out, I don’t expect Correa to get jail time, though perhaps a suspended sentence might be in the works. He’ll never work in baseball again, that’s for sure.

There’s still a lot more to this, however. As Craig Calcaterra notes, Correa claimed to have found Cards information on the Astros’ system when he was traipsing around in there.

That may not raise to a criminal level — there is no allegation Astros people hacked into the Cardinals’ system — but it could be relevant to Major League Baseball in a larger team-to-team information security matter. All of that depends on what Correa is saying he saw, which we do not know yet.

That aside, the level and the amount of information Correa got from the Astros is extraordinary. The defense some have offered — that he was merely checking to see if the Astros stole something — seems like a tiny part of this compared to what he accessed. And the argument I have heard from some people that, “hey, Correa was just walking in an unlocked door, so it’s not a big deal,” is not really true. He walked in, the Astros locked it, so then he broke into Jeff Luhnow’s office, as it were, and stole the keys so he could walk back in again. That is not just idle perusing. That is a concerted effort to carry out corporate espionage.

All of which is to say that this is far from over, especially from a baseball perspective. Correa performed his duties as Cardinals scouting director for over two years while in possession of extensive amounts of Astros’ confidential information. That benefitted him personally and, by extension, benefitted the Cardinals via the acts he took on their behalf with that information in his head. And that’s the case even if he was the sole person involved. If anyone else accessed Ground Control or was made privy to the information Correa obtained, it makes the Cardinals’ collective informational advantage all the greater.

Major League Baseball needs to find out what, if anything the Astros have of the Cardinals, as Correa claims. They need to learn — as they may still learn given that the investigation and the case is not over — what law enforcement knows about anyone else’s involvement. There is still a long way to go. However, based on what is known at the moment, the data breach here was extensive and extraordinary and the Cardinals will likely be facing some stiff, stiff penalties as a result. Maybe financial penalties. Maybe draft pick penalties. Maybe some combination.

Either way, this case is way bigger than people thought it to be yesterday.

We’ll see what MLB does once they have all the information that the prosecutors gathered. Hair Balls and the Chron have more.

Pete Rose remains banned from baseball

No argument from me.

Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, has decided not to lift the permanent ban imposed on Pete Rose more than a quarter-century ago, meaning the player with more hits than anyone else in the sport’s history will continue to be kept out of the Hall of Fame.

The decision by Mr. Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner last January, was announced on Monday after The New York Times reported that the ban would be kept intact.

Mr. Manfred’s decision comes less than three months after he met with Mr. Rose, 74, at Major League Baseball’s headquarters on Park Avenue in Manhattan to discuss the ban, which was first imposed in 1989, when baseball concluded that Rose had bet on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds and that some of the bets had been placed on his own team.

In the report, which was released on Monday and accompanied his decision to uphold the ban, Mr. Manfred said Mr. Rose informed him at the September meeting that he continues to bet on baseball, which he can legally do in Las Vegas, where he lives.

That disclosure clearly concerned Mr. Manfred, as did what he described as Mr. Rose’s inability, at the meeting, to admit that he not only bet on games as a manager but also as a player.

“In short,’’ Mr. Manfred concluded in the report, “Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing … or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the cirucmstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989.”

Yeah, Pete Rose, who was banned for life for violating the very clear and simple rule not to bet on baseball, still bets on baseball, and lied about betting on baseball while he was still a player. Any questions?

I’ll say what I said before, that I’d be okay with the idea of Rose being posthumously elected to the Hall. In terms of his on-field accomplishments, he’s a no-brainer. Put Shoeless Joe in with him – it’ll surely have been a century since the Black Sox scandal by the time this would be relevant. Along those same lines, I’d love to see everyone knock off the stupid arguments about PEDs and just evaluate everyone’s cases on their statistical merits. Until then, Rose can continue to not learn from his mistakes. Joe Posnanski, Craig Calcaterra, and Jayson Stark have more.

The latest Pete Rose revelations

He bet on Reds games while he was still a player, despite his loud assertions to the contrary.

For 26 years, Pete Rose has kept to one story: He never bet on baseball while he was a player.

Yes, he admitted in 2004, after almost 15 years of denials, he had placed bets on baseball, but he insisted it was only as a manager.

But new documents obtained by Outside the Lines indicate Rose bet extensively on baseball — and on the Cincinnati Reds — as he racked up the last hits of a record-smashing career in 1986. The documents go beyond the evidence presented in the 1989 Dowd report that led to Rose’s banishment and provide the first written record that Rose bet while he was still on the field.

“This does it. This closes the door,” said John Dowd, the former federal prosecutor who led MLB’s investigation.

The documents are copies of pages from a notebook seized from the home of former Rose associate Michael Bertolini during a raid by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service in October 1989, nearly two months after Rose was declared permanently ineligible by Major League Baseball. Their authenticity has been verified by two people who took part in the raid, which was part of a mail fraud investigation and unrelated to gambling. For 26 years, the notebook has remained under court-ordered seal and is currently stored in the National Archives’ New York office, where officials have declined requests to release it publicly.

[…]

Dowd, who reviewed the documents at Outside the Lines’ request, said his investigators had tried but failed to obtain Bertolini’s records, believing they would be the final piece in their case that Rose was betting with mob-connected bookmakers in New York. Dowd and his team had sworn testimony from bookie Ron Peters that Rose bet on the Reds from 1984 through 1986, but not written documentation. Dowd also had testimony and a recorded phone conversation between Bertolini and another Rose associate, Paul Janszen, that established that Bertolini had placed bets for Rose. But Dowd never had the kind of documents that could cement that part of his case, especially in the eyes of fans who wanted to see Rose returned to Major League Baseball.

“We knew that [Bertolini] recorded the bets, and that he bet himself, but we never had his records. We tried to get them. He refused to give them to us,” Dowd said. “This is the final piece of the puzzle on a New York betting operation with organized crime. And, of course, [Rose] betting while he was a player.”

See here for the documents in question, and be sure to read the whole story. The main moral here is that one should never believe a word Pete Rose says.

I recommend you read Craig Calcaterra’s Q&A about what this all means. Remember that Rose has asked Commissioner Rob Manfred to review his case and reconsider the lifetime ban against him. I’ll qute from the last bit of Calcaterra’s discussion:

Q: Does this affect his Hall of Fame case? Should it?

A: He has no Hall of Fame case now, because people who are banned are not allowed to be on the ballot. If and when he is reinstated, he will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny any player is when considered for the Hall. Part of that scrutiny is the so-called character clause. As it was, some voters were probably going to hold Rose’s gambling history against him and make his Hall case, if he ever gets one, tougher than it should be. With new evidence that Rose’s lying didn’t end years ago when he finally copped to betting on baseball, it may turn a few more minds against him.

Personally speaking, I think the character clause is dumb and I’d put Rose in the Hall immediately. There are a lot of liars and cheats in there. None of them is the all-time hits leader.

Q: Got anything else, smart guy?

A: Just one observation: Pete Rose politics are dumb. There is no reason why people who think he should be back in the game or in the Hall of Fame have to believe he’s a great guy or that he’s a truth-teller. Those are not mutually-exclusive categories. Yet for years, including the past ten minutes, I have heard people believe that it is. That if you think Rose is a liar, you MUST be against him for all purposes, or that if you think Rose should be reinstated and enshrined in Cooperstown that you MUST believe everyone is out to get him and that he’s a choir boy.

That’s silly, of course. Rose is a liar. That’s pretty clear. He got a punishment he richly deserved and, because of the nature of that punishment (i.e. it’s permanent) — Major League Baseball is doing him a gigantic favor by even reviewing his case again. If they told him to pound sand, there wouldn’t be a great argument for him or any of his partisans to lodge in his favor. But you can also, like I do, think that Rose is a liar who should be in the Hall of Fame. And one that, at this point in his life, could be reinstated without much harm happening. It would make a lot of people happy to boot.

This new news — or this new corroboration of old news and the bad P.R. that attends it — could be bad for that reinstatement case. There’s no getting around that unless and until MLB says it doesn’t care.

As you know, I’ve long been in the anti-Rose camp, mostly because 1) baseball’s rules about gambling are simple and clear; 2) Rose agreed to the punishment he now serves; and 3) he’s been lying about it for a quarter of a century. I mean, if he’d ever shown any sign that he at least understood what he did was wrong and why, I’d have been less of a hardass about it. Be that as it may, I can see where Calcaterra is coming from, and I’d be willing to go along with it on two conditions. One, that any consideration for Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame happens posthumously, and two, that every self-appointed moralist with Hall of Fame voting privileges agrees to get over the whole ridiculous PED thing already. Put in everyone whose as-is numbers say they deserve it, and tell the unvarnished truth about them on their plaques. Then we can move on to less controversial things, like the DH and improving the pace of the game. Who’s with me on this?

“Roguish behavior”

The Saint Louis Cardinals admit they hacked the Astros’ proprietary database.

Thursday’s tacit admission by St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. that someone in his organization was involved in hacking the Astros continued a saga that holds the potential for more tawdriness once the FBI has completed its investigation and all the details are released.

The Chronicle on Thursday learned that the Cardinals had unauthorized access to Astros information as early as 2012, a year earlier than was previously known. DeWitt, meanwhile, acknowledged for the first time that his organization played a role in accessing proprietary information belonging to the Astros, blaming “roguish behavior.”

Meeting with reporters in St. Louis on Thursday along with Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, DeWitt said his organization’s own investigation was still ongoing. He did not specify which employees were responsible, but he told club workers “we’ve all been tainted.”

“Those responsible will be held accountable,” DeWitt said, “and we will continue what we feel is a great franchise.”

The extent of the Cardinals’ reach inside the Astros’ organization isn’t fully known. But it was not limited to one or two occasions, a person familiar with the details of the investigation said. The source asked for anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the case. The Chronicle has previously confirmed two breaches into the Astros’ system – one in 2013 and one in March 2014. The FBI began its investigation after the 2014 breach.

[…]

DeWitt expressed confusion over the intrusions, which he said were limited to a handful of people. The Chronicle learned this week the list of suspects was down to four or five.

“We’re committed to getting this resolved, we hope sooner rather than later,” DeWitt said. “We’re a little bit at the government’s pace. We’re not in a position of pushing them, as you might imagine.”

DeWitt said he was shocked to learn of the scandal.

“I still don’t know the reason for it,” he said of the hacking. “I can’t come up with a reason for it. It goes against everything we stand for. We don’t know who did what here.”

See here for the background. The story suggests that the Astros could have a claim for compensation for their data loss. Let’s see how the FBI investigation goes first, and what if any action Commissioner Rob Manfred takes. I suspect we’re a long way from any resolution just yet.

In the meantime, I love the use of the word “roguish” to describe the actions by whoever did this. It reminds me of a song.

I hereby declare that the official theme song of this scandal, for its use of the word “roguish”. Hair Balls has more.

The Hacked-Stros

WTF?

The F.B.I. and Justice Department prosecutors are investigating whether front-office officials for the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most successful teams in baseball over the past two decades, hacked into internal networks of a rival team to steal closely guarded information about player personnel.

Investigators have uncovered evidence that Cardinals officials broke into a network of the Houston Astros that housed special databases the team had built, according to law enforcement officials. Internal discussions about trades, proprietary statistics and scouting reports were compromised, the officials said.

The officials did not say which employees were the focus of the investigation or whether the team’s highest-ranking officials were aware of the hacking or authorized it. The investigation is being led by the F.B.I.’s Houston field office and has progressed to the point that subpoenas have been served on the Cardinals and Major League Baseball for electronic correspondence.

The attack represents the first known case of corporate espionage in which a professional sports team has hacked the network of another team. Illegal intrusions into companies’ networks have become commonplace, but it is generally conducted by hackers operating in foreign countries, like Russia and China, who steal large tranches of data or trade secrets for military equipment and electronics.

Major League Baseball “has been aware of and has fully cooperated with the federal investigation into the illegal breach of the Astros’ baseball operations database,” a spokesman for baseball’s commissioner, Rob Manfred, said in a written statement.

[…]

Law enforcement officials believe the hacking was executed by vengeful front-office employees for the Cardinals hoping to wreak havoc on the work of Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who had been a successful and polarizing executive with the Cardinals until 2011.

[…]

The intrusion did not appear to be sophisticated, the law enforcement officials said. When Mr. Luhnow was with the Cardinals, the organization built a computer network, called Redbird, to house all of their baseball operations information — including scouting reports and player personnel information. After leaving to join the Astros, and bringing some front-office personnel with him from the Cardinals, Houston created a similar program known as Ground Control.

Ground Control contained the Astros’ “collective baseball knowledge,” according to a Bloomberg Business article published last year. The program took a series of variables and “weights them according to the values determined by the team’s statisticians, physicist, doctors, scouts and coaches,” the article said.

Investigators believe Cardinals officials, concerned that Mr. Luhnow had taken their idea and proprietary baseball information to the Astros, examined a master list of passwords used by Mr. Luhnow and the other officials who had joined the Astros when they worked for the Cardinals. The Cardinals officials are believed to have used those passwords to gain access to the Astros’ network, law enforcement officials said.

Emphasis mine. Allow me to put my IT security hat on for a moment: There should never be a “master list of passwords”, because writing passwords down is poor security practice. Keep passwords in your head or in a password-keeper app. Two-factor authentication is a fine idea, too. And for goodness’ sake, don’t reuse old passwords, especially if you know that someone else knows what those old passwords are. The weakest link in any enterprise system is always an end user with bad security habits. Thus endeth the lesson. I can’t wait to see what Commissioner Manfred makes of this “Spygate” allegation. Hair Balls and ThinkProgress, from whom I got the embedded image, have more.

Rob Manfred to succeed Bud Selig as MLB Commissioner

There will be a changing of the guard for Major League Baseball.

Rob Manfred

Rob Manfred was elected baseball’s 10th commissioner Thursday, winning a three-man competition to succeed Bud Selig and given a mandate by the tradition-bound sport to recapture young fans and speed play in an era that has seen competition increase and attention spans shrink.

The 55-year-old Manfred, who has worked for Major League Baseball in roles with ever-increasing authority since 1998, will take over from Selig, 80, on Jan. 25. It’s a generational change much like the NBA undertook when Adam Silver, then 51, replaced 71-year-old David Stern as commissioner in February. And like Silver, Manfred was his boss’ pick.

Manfred beat out Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in the first contested vote for a new commissioner in 46 years. The third candidate, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, dropped out just before the start of balloting.

“I am tremendously honored by the confidence that the owners showed in me today,” Manfred said. “I have very big shoes to fill.”

Selig has led baseball since September 1992, first as chairman of the sport’s executive council following Fay Vincent’s forced resignation, then as commissioner since July 1998. After announcing his intention to retire many times only to change his mind, he said last September that he really, truly planned to leave in January 2015.

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Manfred has been chief operating officer since September 2013, a role in which he reports directly to Selig and oversees functions such as labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration and club governance.

Manfred had spent the previous 15 years as MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, and received an expanded role of executive vice president of economics and league affairs in 2012. He was the point man in negotiating the past three labor agreements, with all three negotiated without a work stoppage for the first time since the rise of the MLB Players Association in the 1970s. He also helped lead negotiations for the first joint drug agreement that was instituted in 2002 and has been strengthened repeatedly.

Manfred started with baseball in 1987 as a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who assisted in collective bargaining.

Manfred has been to Selig what Silver was to Stern — a longtime trusted aide who negotiated labor deals, handled crises such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bankruptcy saga and was intimately involved in major issues ranging from drug testing to revenue sharing. Manfred has taken criticism in recent months, however, for some of the methods baseball employed in its controversial Biogenesis investigation.

“There is no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament, the experience to be a very successful commissioner,” Selig said, “and I have justifiably very high expectations.”

Manfred — whose term was not specified but is expected to receive a three-year contract, according to multiple reports — grew up in Rome, New York, about an hour’s drive from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He must address issues that include decreased interest in baseball among younger people and an average game time that has stretched to 3:03, up 30 minutes from 1981. And he will be leading an opinionated group of multimillionaires and billionaires.

“I think some of Rob’s greatest attributes are his ability to reach consensus,” said St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who chaired the committee that picked the three candidates.

If you’ve read my blog for a few years, you know I’ve never been a fan of Bud Selig. I’ve always assigned him the primary blame for the 1994 strike and all the ridiculous “contraction” talk a few years after that. Don’t even get me started on the whole PED fiasco and the resultant mess that Hall of Fame voting has become. That said, baseball has had tremendous growth lately, they’re at the forefront of online media, there’s been a 20 year run of labor peace that should continue with the next collective bargaining agreement, and they’ve finally taken some steps to modernize umpiring and make it more accountable via instant replay. Selig deserves credit for those things, and to the extent that Rob Manfred can build on them, baseball will continue to be in good shape. I wish Rob Manfred the best of luck in the new gig. Deadspin, the NYT, MLB.com, and Pinstripe Alley have more.