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Boston Red Sox accused of illegal sign-stealing in 2018

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The sign-stealing scandal that, to date, has primarily focused on the Houston Astros has widened. Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic report that the 2018 Boston Red Sox had a video-enabled operation of their own:

Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team’s replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.

They report that the system was not useful during the postseason due to MLB personnel monitoring the replay room and due to other teams being wary enough of sign-stealing that they constantly changed signs.

The key part of this, though, is that this all came after Major League Baseball cracked down on use of replay officials in sign-stealing operations in the wake of the infamous Apple Watch scandal in 2017. That led to fines of Red Sox personnel and the implicit warning that, going forward, using video to steal signs would be dealt with harshly.

This also comes in the wake of Rob Manfred saying, in November, that he did not believe that the sign-stealing scandal then engulfing the Astros extended beyond Houston. That seemed like a silly whitewash at the time, but seems like even more of a whitewash now.

A whitewash that Major League Baseball apparently realizes it can no longer maintain. The league’s statement to The Athletic:

“The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter.”

Rosenthal and Drellich say in their report that it’s possible that other teams were using their replay rooms in similar schemes but that, at present, they don’t have enough to go on in order to report that. Professional journalists do not say such things unless they (a) are still actively investigating the matter; and (b) are pretty sure that, eventually, they’ll get something more to go on. Which means that this is only going to expand.

Which is interesting for its own sake. But it’s also interesting because it seemed like Manfred and the league wanted to try to wrap up the Astros sign-stealing thing in a neat little bow before the 2020 season started. Now it would appear that those plans are out the window and that this story is far closer to its beginning than to its end.

MLBPA: MLB’s ‘demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected’

Rob Manfred and Tony Clark
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On Thursday evening, the Major League Baseball Players Association released a statement regarding ongoing negotiations between the owners and the union. The two sides continue to hash out details concerning a 2020 season. The owners want a shorter season, around 50 games. The union recently proposed a 114-game season that also offered the possibility of salary deferrals.

MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said that the union held a conference call that included the Executive Board and MLBPA player leaders. They “resoundingly rejected” the league’s “demand for additional concessions.”

The full statement:

In this time of unprecedented suffering at home and abroad, Players want nothing more than to get back to work and provide baseball fans with the game we all love. But we cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week, Major League Baseball communicated its intention to schedule a dramatically shortened 2020 season unless Players negotiate salary concessions. The concessions being sought are in addition to billions in Player salary reductions that have already been agreed upon.

This threat came in response to an Association proposal aimed at charting a path forward. Among other things, Players proposed more games, two years of expanded playoffs, salary deferrals in the event of a 2020 playoff cancellation, and the exploration of additional jewel events and broadcast enhancements aimed at creatively bringing our Players to the fans while simultaneously increasing the value of our product. Rather than engage, the league replied it will shorten the season unless Players agree to further salary reductions.

Earlier today we held a conference call of the Association’s Executive Board and several other MLBPA Player leaders. The overwhelming consensus of the Board is that Players are ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions that could affect the health and safety of not just themselves, but their families as well. The league’s demand for additional concessions was resoundingly rejected.

Important work remains to be done in order to safely resume the season. We stand ready to complete that work and look forward to getting back on the field.

As per the current agreement signed in March, if there is a 2020 season, players will be paid on a prorated basis. Thus, fewer games means the players get paid less and the owners save more. MLB has threatened to unilaterally set a 2020 season in motion if the two sides cannot come to terms. It should come as no surprise that the union has responded strongly on both fronts.

There have been varying reports in recent days over the confidence in a 2020 season happening. The MLBPA’s statement tonight doesn’t move the needle any; it simply affirms that the union remains steadfast in its goal to avoid a second significant cut in salaries.

As I see it, the ball is in the owners’ court. The owners can strongarm the players into a short season, saving money but significantly increasing the odds of a big fight in upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations. Or the owners can eat more of a financial loss, agreeing to a longer season than they feel is comfortable. The latter would have the double benefit of not damaging overall perception of the sport and would not disrupt labor peace going forward.

The MLBPA statement included a declaration that the players are “ready to report, ready to get back on the field, and they are willing to do so under unprecedented conditions.” If there is no 2020 season, we will have only the owners to blame, not the players.

Update: Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty, who has been quite vocal on social media about these negotiations, chimed in: