MLB, MLBPA give Rob Manfred power to impose sign-stealing punishment on players

sign-stealing punishment
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Sign-stealing punishment, before today, was something that only happened to teams and their executives. That caused a lot of consternation when the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox players got off scot-free despite stealing opposing signs. As of today, they will no longer get automatic immunity, however.

Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported overnight that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have come to an agreement under which Rob Manfred would be empowered to impose sign-stealing punishment on individual players. Punishments will include suspension without pay and without accrual of service time, Drellich reports.

Before now — most famously in the case of the Houston Astros — players had been given immunity in exchange for information. It was simply a practical thing, Rob Manfred claimed. The league office would not get cooperation from players if they were at risk of punishment, he reasoned. In this Manfred made the analogy to law enforcement cutting deals with smaller crooks in order to get the bigger ones. He also reasoned that, per the reality of how baseball teams worked, managers and general managers have the power to stop such schemes in ways that individual players don’t, and it was thus the GM and manager who are going to get popped. This is why Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch — and why Red Sox manager Alex Cora — were suspended.

The decision has rankled both the public and major league baseball players who were not a part of those sign-stealing schemes. Players were uncharacteristically vocal when no Astros players were punished for stealing signs and many hinted that, if Major League Baseball would take no action to impose sign-stealing punishment, they would take it into their own hands. And, so far, they have.

Some Astros players were thrown at during exhibition games this spring and during summer camp. And, of course, on Tuesday night, the Dodgers-Astros game ground to a halt when Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw at multiple Astros batters, leading to a benches-clearing confrontation and resulting in Kelly receiving an eight-game suspension. Many have noted that Kelly, in throwing at the Astros, punished them more than Rob Manfred did. And that Kelly himself received considerably more punishment for his relatively minor transgression than Astros players did for their major transgression.

That, now, will change. Per the new sign-stealing punishment guidelines, players involved in such shenanigans will not be able to cite the Astros or Red Sox’ immunity as grounds for mitigation. At the same time, Drellich reports, the one-year suspensions for Luhnow, Hinch, and Cora, will not stand as precedent either. In all, it sounds like the league is going to try to bring this category of rule breaking down to the level of in-game cheating or fighting, with lesser, but perhaps more routine punishment in the event it is uncovered. An effort to transform what, in the case of the Astros and Red Sox, became a big scandal, into something less sensational.

That’s a good move. As is putting everyone on notice that, going forward, the cheating that has rendered the 2017-2018 postseasons illegitimate in the minds of many, will not be tolerated and will not go unpunished.