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Appeals court upholds ruling to unseal MLB’s 2017 letter on sign stealing

Look, if you’re going to follow a weird story, you’ve got to stay committed to following that weird story.

A September 2017 letter from Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred detailing alleged sign-stealing by the New York Yankees should be unsealed, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a June 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ordering “a minimally redacted version” of the letter to be unsealed.

Per NJ.com, it may be two weeks or more before the court releases the letter.

Rakoff’s order had been stayed pending an appeal by the Yankees and MLB. The Yankees claimed making it public would result in in “severe reputational damage.”

But in Monday’s decision that also upheld the dismissal of a $5 million lawsuit filed by daily fantasy sports player Kristopher Olson and 100-plus other plaintiffs seeking damages from MLB, the Astros and Boston Red Sox over illegal sign-stealing operations of recent seasons, the appeals court upheld Rakoff’s ruling regarding the letter.

“In light of plaintiffs’ attempted use of the letter in their proposed Second Amended Complaint and the district court’s discussion of the letter in explaining its decision to deny plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend in their reconsideration motion, and because MLB disclosed a substantial portion of the substance of the letter in its press release about the investigation, we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in unsealing the letter, subject to redacting the names of certain individuals,” the appeals court’s ruling said.

The sealed letter to the Yankees had been obtained during the discovery phase of the class-action lawsuit, which claimed MLB and the Astros and Red Sox for liable for any money lost during games in which either team cheated.

The plaintiffs had argued that a Manfred press release in 2017 had been an “actionable misrepresentation” of the facts laid out in the letter, with the plaintiffs claming that “the investigation had in fact found that the Yankees engaged in a more serious, sign-stealing scheme.”

On Sept. 15, 2017, MLB issued a statement from Manfred concluding the investigation into the Red Sox’s illegal use of an Apple Watch, which had been prompted by a complaint lodged by the Yankees. As a part of that investigation, Manfred discovered the Yankees’ illegal use of their dugout phone and fined them a “lesser, undisclosed amount” than he levied the Red Sox.

“No club complained about the conduct in question at the time and, without prompting from another club or my office, the Yankees halted the conduct in question,” Manfred wrote. “Moreover, the substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any rule or regulation in and of itself. Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.”

In that same ruling, Manfred said he found “insufficient evidence” to substantiate a claim from the Red Sox that the Yankees illegally used the YES Network to steal Boston’s signs.

See here, here, and here for the argument. A copy of the appellate court’s ruling is in the Chron story. The affirmation of the DraftKings lawsuit is likely the more substantial matter, but who knows? I still think this letter is probably no big deal, but if it is then the lessons are clearly 1) don’t do things that you’ll be embarrassed about later if people find out about it, and 2) better hope no one writes down the details of your embarrassing stuff. NJ.com has more.

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