MLB’s strict penalties more about defying authority then stealing signs

Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images) /

Monday MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred handed out severe penalties to the Houston Astros, as well as their manager and GM. The ruling was more about defying the commissioner’s authority than the actual offense committed.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred came down very hard on the Houston Astros Monday afternoon. The penalties handed out by MLB to the team, Manager AJ Hinch, and General Manager Jeff Luhnow are virtually unprecedented for offenses deemed to have taken place during the play of a game that didn’t involve a fight.

For the record, Houston was fined $5M, the max allowed under MLB’s constitution. Additionally, the Astros will lose their first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Hinch and Luhnow are suspended from now through the end of the 2020 World Series.

They are not allowed to have anything to do with the team or even attend major or minor league games. If either is found in violation during this period, they will be permanently banned. Of course, that doesn’t matter because both men were fired by owner Jim Crane shortly after.

After reading Manfred’s decision, I believe his ruling is more about the Astros directly defying Manfred’s September 15, 2017 edict on using technology to steal signs. That original message from the commissioner was issued after the Red Sox used replay technology and Apple watches in their plot. There was a reinforcing memo from MLB’s Chief Operations Office Joe Torre in March 2018 about MLB Rule 1-1 that said:

"To be clear, the use of any equipment in the clubhouse or in a Club’s replay or video rooms to decode an opposing Club’s signs during the game violates this Regulation."

These penalties have to be about defying the commissioner because the sign-stealing plan itself was ridiculous. According to the report, Houston’s hairbrained scheme worked like this: “One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor (near the dugout), and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter.”

This was modified from Carlos Beltran‘s (now the New York Mets manager, then a Houston player) original bad plan which had a runner going between the replay room and dugout. Really? How long does it take from when a catcher gives the sign until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand? Maybe 20 to 30 seconds if that much.

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We are supposed to believe in that time someone can read a sign, with all the indicators and fake signals, bang on a trashcan from behind the dugout, loud enough for the batter to hear it and have said batter react accordingly. It doesn’t seem very plausible that a plan like this would work. As a matter of fact, a loud bang when the hitter is focussing on a pitch would be more of a distraction than a help.

Some people believe “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.” That’s garbage. Trying to get an advantage over an opponent has been around since the creation of competition. Baseball is no exception. Efforts to steal signs will continue long after the current scandal has passed.

The bottom line is this: When Commissioner Manfred makes a rule, it must be followed. If those rules are not followed the game devolves into chaos. There are plenty of ideas from his office floating around that are questionable, to say the least. By holding the manager and GM accountable for the players who work for them, he reinforces his right to be obeyed.

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What do you think? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.