Rob Manfred cannot fix the past. The baseball officer has extensive powers, but cannot repeat the 2017 playoffs or retrospectively name another champion, or restore Joe Girardi as the Yankee manager.
So Manfred did what is actually in his power. He severely punished the leadership of the Astro to regulate the present and the future. After completing an investigation into the Astros – mainly due to the theft of illegal signs, particularly in 2017 – Manfred GM Jeff Luhnow and Manager A.J. Hinch took away the first and second round drafts for 2020 and 2021 from the organization for one year and fined it $ 5 million.
An argument for the worst could be put forward. Lifelong prohibitions. Player penalties. Major design penalties. Higher fines. And – most importantly – a punishment for the owner of Astros, Jim Crane, whom MLB very apologized for. But Crane hired both Luhnow and Hinch – and fired both on Monday after the penalty was announced. And he monitored what was generally considered an organization that danced at least near the third rail of legality. Crane should have asked his employees tough questions a long time ago if he really wanted to run the sparkling clean shop he wants now.
But if we have learned anything in modern America, it is difficult to reach consensus, including whether these punishments were too mild or too severe. So I will offer this – they were hard enough to convey what Manfred wanted to deliver: that those who cross the border by cheating on technology do so at the risk of losing their jobs and maybe their right to ever participate in major league baseball again.
Every major baseball operations department was notified. After all, the three-month investigation into the theft of electronic signs by MLB showed that this was motivated more by players / coaches than by Luhnow and Hinch. Both paid with their reputation and job while no players were punished – although the then player and new Mets manager Carlos Beltran was the only player mentioned as part of the cabal that created the fraud mechanisms.
MLB recognized the hurdles and difficulties involved in further investigating and prosecuting players protected by a union that, for example, coaches, managers and GMs do not offer the same defense. But MLB also knows that the fraudsters are almost always ahead of the police and that new implementations of current or new technologies will reveal further opportunities for fraud. Keep in mind that this cheating comes from teams to see how much can be collected from the real-time monitors that were originally used to advise managers on whether to pose an immediate challenge for the replay. More technology, more unintended consequences.
MLB therefore warns GMs, managers and trainers of what is going on in their stores – and monitors it. The players are not the adults. Management is. Management must therefore take great care to ensure that this does not occur again.
Because what happened forever tarnishes the Astros, of course, but also the game. In an attempt to protect the sanctity of Houston's only title, Crane said it was "not clear that it would affect the outcome." But why bother if players don't think they'll win big benefits? According to the MLB report, the Astros continued to cheat even after an MLB-wide warning from Manfred in mid-September 2017 that technologically improved cheating would be handled harder in the future. They continued to cheat this postseason.
You won't be excluded from this championship – just like Roger Clemens hasn't lost any Cy Young's or Barry Bond's MVPs – what are you doing? Are you clearing the title right now? Is it the NL champion Dodgers? AL second, the Girardi Yankees? No, Houston keeps the hardware like Clemens and Bonds. But we all know forever who these astros were. This is also terrible for the MLB, especially since the next year's winner, the Red Sox, is one of them.
Alex Cora, a trainer for these Astros, is mentioned in the report as a key element in the preparation of the protocol for stealing signs. He hasn't been punished yet because MLB is still investigating allegations that the 2018 Red Sox also cheated with Cora as their manager in a year Boston won the title. Cora is also likely to face a ban of at least one year, possibly leading to Red Sox dismissal. These punishments also have tentacles that make them heavier.
And for Manfred and MLB, the goal is to be draconian enough – with the precedent now providing for even stricter penalties – to curb further fraud. The commissioner could not find that the masters of 2017 and 2018 now have a touch of 1919 in their reputation – and took the perception of the game with them.
He could only try to stop this in the future. But these punishments are a worthy deterrent.