This was in the summer of 2012 in Jeff Luhnow's office in the old Union Station in Houston next to Minute Maid Park. It was Luhnow's first year as General Manager of the Astro, and while the team was terrible on the pitch, there was excitement above. Luhnow, still a proud outsider after a few years in baseball, had a plan to revolutionize the way teams were built.
Yes, the Astros would fill up for a couple of seasons and thus have the right to spend more on amateur talent than other teams. Yes, they would use statistics deeper and more securely than their competitors. However, what seemed to liven up Luhnow the most was the technical possibilities and the evolving methods to measure every data point from the field.
"It's not just about breaking numbers," he said. "It's about collecting, evaluating, interpreting, and using information across a range of disciplines to get the best possible estimate of that player's future performance." And if we can do that 5 percent better than the other clubs, that is a decisive advantage for our game. "
Luhnow made an analogy: “In blackjack, the house has a half percent advantage. If you go from half a step to a half, you become a millionaire. But the house doesn't allow that. That's why the game is designed the way it is. "
On Monday, the security forces at Casino Luhnow and Astros Manager A.J. Hinch grabbed her by the arms and dragged her to a prison cell. Technology helped lift her up, and now she had done it.
After four playoff games, three seasons with 100 wins, two World Cup games and one championship Luhnow and Hinch were suspended for a year by Commissioner Rob Manfred for refusing a sign theft program in 2017. An hour later, they were fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.
The team also received a $ 5 million fine – the maximum allowed by the league's constitution – and had to discard the next two draft picks for the first and second rounds. The players were spared the penalty, but the rapid replacement of Luhnow and Hinch is beyond the management structure of the most successful league game in recent years.
"None of them started," Crane said at a press conference in Houston. "But none of them did anything about it."
In this way, Crane occupied Luhnow and Hinch as something similar Buck Weaver, the Chicago White Sox infielder, was one of the eight players banned from life for a 1919 World Series conspiracy. Weaver didn't take any money, but he knew about the conspiracy beforehand and didn't stop it.
The Astros scandal is very different – no other crime in baseball history has deliberately lost the World Series – and Luhnow and Hinch will be able to work in the sport again this fall. However, seven words in Manfred's report contained the most serious concerns in the commissioner's office: The behavior of the Astros, Manfred wrote, caused fans, players, executives and reporters "Raise questions about game integrity" The Astros played.
The baseball business depends on public belief in the legitimacy of the competition. This is the implicit deal between the league and the fans, and without this trust everything will fall apart.
M.L.B. has not wisely given up the title of Astros, which would have been meaningless and intellectually dishonest; In fact, the Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. However, the report will leave a devastating impression on the franchise's only title and everything else that Luhnow built. It's fair to see the Astros the way we see Alex Rodriguez, who has repeatedly used performance-enhancing drugs: undeniably talented, but depraved forever.
Of course, this saga doesn't end here. In the report, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, the Astros 2017 bank coach, was named as the pioneer of the sign-stealing operation. The league has also launched an investigation into Coras Red Sox's allegations of electronic sign theft in 2018, based on a recent report published in The Athletic. It is obvious that Cora will be severely punished.
Manfred's report also identified Mets' new manager, Carlos Beltran, as one of the Houston players who initiated the idea of decoding and communicating signs with the help of an illegal camera in the middle and a video monitor near the dugout. However, Beltran is not faced with league discipline, and a Mets spokesman said the team has no comment on its inclusion in the report.
Manfred was visibly outraged by the boldness of the Astro to continue stealing signs, even after warning all teams in September 2017 to use technology for it. His report cited a "very problematic" culture in Astros baseball operations and blamed Luhnow and Hinch for leadership failures.
But Crane, the leader of the organization, was spared (apart from the fact that he was about the same as a middleman). Manfred also took no responsibility to overlook the temptation to spread the technology to the shelter. Baseball did not acknowledge that the sign theft epidemic was almost certainly far beyond Houston, and no longer set clear boundaries that could finally stop the problem.
"We need a system in which all of the teams' video systems are managed by one M.L.B. Technology manager, ”said agent Scott Boras on Monday. “Live information may not be passed on to coaches and managers during the game – only after the performance. The only thing you get during the game is with the naked eye. "
In this case, Boras is close to some of the clients. He represented Cora and Beltran during their active careers and is the agent of Astros & # 39; Jose Altuve Most valuable American League player in 2017. ("Altuve doesn't use this stuff," said Boras. "He doesn't like the characters before he hits; it makes him too aggressive.")
But its solution makes sense – just eliminate watching in-game videos. The teams survived a century without this technology and can learn to live without it.
At least the punishments on Monday should deter organizations trying to test the limits of fair play. Manfred used his strength and proved to Luhnow that baseball follows the same principle as blackjack: you can ride a hot hand for a while, but the house always wins in the end.