The Houston Astros fired Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday, about an hour after Major League Baseball had suspended them for a year over an elaborate cheating scandal carried out in 2017. The league had issued a heavy punishment to the team for a scheme in which its players stole opposing catchers’ signs.
The announcement of the firings was made by Jim Crane, the Astros’ owner, who said, “This will not happen again on my watch.”
Crane’s announcement came shortly after M.L.B. had announced punishment for the Astros, which included the loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 and a fine of $5 million.
The accusation that players on the Astros, who won the World Series in 2017, decoded and shared signals between other teams’ pitchers and catchers to give themselves an advantage while hitting was first made public by a former Astros player, Mike Fiers, in an article in The Athletic in November.
In baseball, catchers signal to pitchers what pitch to throw — a fastball or a curveball, say — with hand signals. If the opposing team can interpret and quickly relay those signs to the batter, it can gain the advantage of knowing what pitch is coming.
M.L.B.’s report said that the Astros, in violation of M.L.B. rules, had used a camera in center field to capture signs from opposing catchers at Minute Maid Park in Houston, and then transmitted those images to a monitor near the dugout. Astros players relayed that information to the batter by banging on a trash can, among other methods.
Players and coaches may use their eyes to steal signs, but the use of electronics to do so is forbidden.
Baseball’s report on the case, released on Monday and signed by Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr., said that many members of the Astros organization were at least aware of the scheme. While many players across the club benefited from the scheme, the league’s punishment focused on the team’s leadership, with lengthy suspensions for Hinch and Luhnow.
“Most of the position players on the 2017 team either received sign information from the banging scheme or participated in the scheme by helping to decode signs or bang on the trash can,” the report said. “Players stated that if Manager A.J. Hinch told them to stop engaging in the conduct, they would have immediately stopped.”
While the report said Luhnow had denied any knowledge of the trash-can-banging scheme, it said that “there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.”
“Irrespective of Luhnow’s knowledge of his Club’s violations of the rules, I will hold him personally accountable for the conduct of his Club,” Manfred wrote in the report.
Of the manager, Manfred wrote, “Hinch told my investigators that he did not support his players decoding signs using the monitor installed near the dugout and banging the trash can, and he believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement. However, Hinch admits he did not stop it and he did not notify players or Cora that he disapproved of it” — a reference to Alex Cora, the Boston Red Sox manager who was the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.
Manfred continued: “Although I appreciate Hinch’s remorsefulness, I must hold him accountable for the conduct of his team, particularly since he had full knowledge of the conduct and chose to allow it to continue throughout the 2017 postseason.”
The report was clear that Cora “was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs.”
The Athletic reported last week that the Red Sox had illegally used a video replay room to decode opponents’ signs — though not to transmit them electronically — in 2018, the year Boston won the World Series.
“I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the D.O.I. completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager,” Manfred wrote.
Manfred said that the team owner Jim Crane “was unaware of any of the violations of M.L.B. rules by his club.”
He said “the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic.”
Brandon Taubman, the former assistant general manager, was fired by the team in October for his conduct toward a female reporter at a postgame celebration. Manfred suspended him for a year as well for that conduct.
Manfred said that if Luhnow, Hinch or Taubman made further significant violations, they would be banned from baseball.