Rob Manfred
Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Rob Manfred addresses Astros’ sign-stealing scandal at another press conference

16 Comments

Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the media once again, this time in Arizona on Tuesday. He started off by apologizing for his “piece of metal” comment made , referring to the World Series trophy on Sunday. He referred to his comment as “disrespectful” and a “mistake.”

Responding to a prompt about vacating the Astros’ 2017 championship, Manfred said, “We’re very concerned about opening the door to altering results that took place on the field. … I just think it’s an impossible task for an institution to undertake.”

Manfred was asked about Astros players being given immunity in exchange for speaking about their involvement in the sign-stealing scheme. The commissioner passed the buck onto the MLB Players Association, saying that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity. Manfred almost certainly wouldn’t have been able to punish an entire team of players even if the MLBPA wasn’t in the way, and the union’s involvement wouldn’t have been an issue if the league had taken seriously the complaints filed against the Astros prior to Mike Fiers going public to The Athletic.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa downplayed his team’s sign-stealing during the 2017 postseason. During Tuesday’s press conference, Manfred negated Correa’s claim based on “statements from players.” The league’s report on its investigation, released last month, said as much.

On Fiers, Manfred said the pitcher “did the industry a service.” He added, “I do believe we will be a better institution when we we emerge from the end of this episode. Without Mike Fiers, we probably would have had a very difficult time cleaning this up.” Manfred was asked if the league plans to help protect Fiers, particularly when the Athletics play in Houston. He pledged to “take every possible step” to protect Fiers.

A reporter brought up the fact that Manfred was hired by the owners, creating a conflict of interest. Considering how Astros owner Jim Crane got off relatively light in the league’s investigation, some have rightfully wondered if Manfred can effectively police the league if he’s in the owners’ collective pocket. Manfred replied, “I feel tremendously secure in my position as Commissioner, regardless of whatever discipline I have to impose on a club or clubs. There is no conflict of interest between my disciplinary role and job security.” That, of course, is not true, but the jig would be up if he said anything else.

Manfred said he would be willing to engage in “civil discourse” with players who have questions pertaining to the Astros’ operation. Many, as we have seen, have expressed anger and confusion over the entire situation in recent days as spring training has progressed.

Ultimately, this press conference went better for Manfred than the one on Sunday, but it was more of the same. It was good to hear him apologize for the “piece of metal” comment, and it was also great that he praised Fiers for speaking out. However, Fiers wouldn’t have had to speak out if the league had been doing its due diligence from the start. The Athletics, in fact, filed a complaint about the Astros before the right-hander decided to blow the whistle, but it went nowhere. We need whistleblowers, but organizations should be acting diligently and ethically in the first place.

The league has considerable egg on its face because it wanted to tamp down the issue of teams using technology to cheat in real time. As a result, the players, the media, and the fans have lost faith in the integrity of the game. During the press conference, Manfred referenced trust being “earned” and “earned back.” Thus far, the league hasn’t done enough to regain anyone’s trust.

Astros owner Jim Crane says MLB ‘explicitly exonerated’ him

Jim Crane
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
5 Comments

Even during a pandemic, the Astros can’t seem to avoid putting their foot in their mouth. Per The Athletic’s Daniel Kaplan, Astros owner Jim Crane claimed in a legal filing on Monday that Major League Baseball “explicitly exonerated” him in the club’s 2017 sign-stealing scandal that resulted in a now-tainted championship.

Crane is named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former pitcher Mike Bolsinger, whose last appearance in the majors was on August 4, 2017 against the Astros. He faced eight batters, allowing four runs on four hits and three walks in one-third of an inning. Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, negligence, and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal. Bolsinger is seeking damages for himself as well as for the Astros to forfeit the nearly $31 million in bonuses earned from winning the championship in 2017, asking for the money to be reallocated to children’s charities and retired players in need of financial assistance.

Commissioner Rob Manfred did not use the word “exonerated” in his report on the league’s investigation into the Astros’ cheating scheme. Manfred did, however, write, “At the outset, I also can say our investigation revealed absolutely no evidence that Jim Crane, the owner of the Astros, was aware of any of the conduct described in this report. Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation, and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested.”

Saying that the league found “no evidence” that Crane was involved and patting Crane on the back for not obstructing the investigation is not the same was “explicitly exonerating” him. The Athletic asked MLB if it agreed with Crane’s characterization of the report. Rather than agreeing with Crane, the league simply said, “All of our comments about the investigation are included in the report.”

This isn’t the first legal filing in which the Astros made a questionable claim. Recently, Astros lawyers claimed the organization expressed “sincere apologies and remorse for the events described in the report by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.”

In Monday’s filing, Astros lawyers swung at Bolsinger, citing his poor pitching performance overall in 2017. They wrote, “Plaintiff wants to have a California judge and jury literally call ball and strikes, and award him money damages based on rank conjecture about what might have happened to him in Houston on August 4, 2017 due to alleged rules violations he speculates may have occurred that day.”

Astros lawyers also questioned the frequency of the club’s cheating and its impact, writing, “Major League Baseball (‘MLB’) investigated alleged rule violations by the Astros related to sign-stealing, resulting in a January 13, 2020 report in which the Commissioner of Baseball expressly found that ‘it is impossible to determine whether the (Astros’) conduct actually impacted the results on the field. The MLB did not conclude that sign-stealing violations occurred in every game or even most at-bats in the 2017 season.”

Astros fan Tony Adams, who analyzed every home game during the 2017 regular season and posted the results on SignStealingScandal.com, found that there were 54 “bangs” on August 4 when Bolsinger pitched against the Astros. That was the highest total among all Astros home games that season. Bolsinger entered in the middle of the fourth inning, first facing Yuli Gurriel. Adams found three bangs — all on curve balls — in a plate appearance that ended in a walk. Adams found four more bangs — all on breaking balls — in a Brian McCann at-bat later that inning that also ended in a walk. Bolsinger then gave up a single to Tyler White, with trash can banging on a cut fastball and a curve. The next batter, Jake Marisnick, singled as well, hearing bangs on a cutter and a curve. Bolsinger finally got out of the inning when Bregman swung at a first-pitch curve (yes, there was a trash can bang for that) and flied out.

Importantly, Bolsinger’s lawyer notes that Crane’s motion makes MLB eligible for discovery. It is already eligible for discovery in New York federal court where the league is a defendant in a lawsuit brought by daily fantasy sports contestants. Bolsinger’s lawsuit is brought out of California state court. The Astros want Bolsinger’s lawsuit dismissed or at least moved to Texas.

Because the Astros can’t seem to stop making headlines for all the wrong reasons, this whole situation figures to get even more wild as time goes on. Due to discovery, we may end up learning even more about the Astros’ cheating ways than the league may have let on in their report on their investigation.