What did Joe Torre know and when did he know it?

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Earlier this afternoon a reader named Sean James pointed me to this morning’s Buster Olney podcast at ESPN, where Buster and ESPN’s Karl Ravech were talking about the potential penalties the Red Sox might be facing when MLB’s report on their sign-stealing operation finally comes out. One part in particular stuck out.

At the 10:50 mark, Ravech tells Buster a story about something that happened in the 2018 ALCS between the Sox and the Astros. Buster said afterward that he had not heard this. I do not believe I have heard this. If it has been reported out before, I don’t recall it, but there has been so much flying around over the past couple of months that it might’ve just gotten lost. Anyway, here’s Ravech:

“I don’t know if I told you this, but there was a meeting before the LCS between the Astros and the Red Sox that involved A.J. Hinch, it involved [Jeff] Luhnow, it involved [Dave] Dombrowski, it involved [Alex] Cora, and Joe Torre was in that meeting and Torre basically said to the teams, both of them, to all those people and anyone else who was in the room, ‘Look: if you are inclined, or have gotten away with, or are doing anything that would violate the rules that you are all aware of or should be aware of, um, you’re gonna have to understand, at some point there’s gonna be a player or players or front office person that’s going to leave your team, go to another team, and basically rat you guys out. Basically tell, you know, the dirty secrets.’

“So whether Joe Torre was aware, at that point, what was coming from Mike Fiers, and there’s no evidence to believe that, but I was told that that message and that meeting basically scared the heck out of those guys in that room. To the point where they acknowledged ‘we’re in trouble, we’re dead, so we cannot continue this particular behavior.'”

Ravech then said that, “in the case of the person or persons who told me that, the behavior changed.” Meaning that they stopped stealing signs then and there. Whether that means just the Red Sox did or whether the Red Sox and the Astros did is not clear, but if it was both it’s another datapoint that suggests the Astros’ scheme lasted well past 2017.

That’s not really the important part of all of this, however. Ravech then goes on to say that, in his view, that anecdote is good for the Red Sox in that it means that they, having ceased their sign-stealing in the LCS, won’t get hit as hard as the Astros did once MLB levels punishment. I don’t know about that, but this anecdote tells me a lot more than that. A lot more that seems far more damning, whether Ravech or his source appreciates it or not.

First, It strongly suggests that Joe Torre knew that the Astros and Red Sox were stealing signs by October 2018. That, I would hope, is obvious from context.

Ravech’s reference to Torre’s possible ignorance to Mike Fiers notwithstanding, the reference to the former player suggests that it’s at least possible that Torre did, in fact, know that a former Astros player had said something to his current team about it. As it is, we do know, thanks to Jonathan Lucroy’s recent interview, that the Oakland Athletics had by late 2018 lodged a complaint with the league. While they may very well have left Fiers’ name out of that, it’s not hard to imagine that they said they knew what the Astros were doing thanks to a former player. It seems odd that Torre would bluff so specifically.

Finally, and most importantly, it gives a lot of insight into Major League Baseball’s attitude about all of this. Basically, MLB knew, and its impulse was not to get to the bottom of it all, but to save the cheaters from themselves. To save them from being outed and caught. It’s Joe Torre — representing baseball as an entity in that meeting — saying “we can turn the other way for only so long, but eventually we may not be able to because someone will snitch. Please don’t force us to do something about this.”

Which, as I have argued before, is simply irresponsible on the part of Major League Baseball.

In the more than three months since this scandal broke open, everything about it suggests that MLB knew or had reason to know what was going on and that they did as little as they possibly could until Fiers went to the press. Then and only then did the league react, and then only because of the bad publicity the November story in The Athletic caused. And even then, it was just an investigation into the Astros. It would take a second story — one implicating the Red Sox — for them to open up an investigation into  Boston’s cheating. One wonders how many teams the league knows were stealing signs which have not been investigated simply because no one has broken a story about them yet.

We also know that in early January, Rob Manfred personally knew that the Astros front office originated the scheme of stealing signs via video. We know that, despite that, his official report 11 days later left that part out.

Joe Torre, who earlier this month stepped down from his job at Major League Baseball and assumed an emeritus role, has been very quiet in all of this, and Major League Baseball has said little if anything about what Torre’s office — which is tasked with dealing with enforcing rules an dealing with rule breaking — knew about electronic sign stealing by the Astros and Red Sox and when it knew it.

If Ravech’s story is true, he knew quite a damn bit as early as October 2018. That we’re just hearing about this in February 2020 is frankly amazing.