Yankees ask entire 2nd Circuit to keep Manfred letter sealed

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — The New York Yankees asked all 13 judges of the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse a three-judge panel’s decision to unseal a letter from baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to general manager Brian Cashman detailing an investigation into sign stealing.

Circuit Judge Joseph F. Bianco ordered the letter unsealed on March 21 after hearing the case with Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston and Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch. They upheld an April 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff to dismiss a lawsuit by fantasy sports contestants who claimed they were damaged by sign stealing in Major League Baseball.

The five men who sued participated in fantasy contests hosted by DraftKings from 2017-19.

“The Yankees primarily contend they will suffer `significant and irreparable reputational harm’ not because of the actual substance of the Yankees letter, but rather because its content would be distorted to falsely and unfairly generate the confusing scenario that the Yankees had somehow violated MLB’s sign stealing rules, when in fact the Yankees did not,” Blanco wrote. “That argument, however, carries little weight. Disclosure of the document will allow the public to independently assess MLB’s conclusion regarding the internal investigation (as articulated to the Yankees), and the Yankees are fully capable of disseminating their own views regarding the actual content of the Yankees letter.”

The team asked for the en banc rehearing in a petition Friday.

“The opinion sanctions a serious abuse of the federal courts and opens a floodgate for future litigants to cause more abuse in ways never intended,” a filing by team President Randy Levine said. “If the opinion stands, a losing party can attach any confidential document it wants to a meritless reconsideration motion and get it unsealed, making the affected party a potential hostage, all without ever stating a viable cause of action.”

Manfred ruled in January 2020 that the Astros violated rules against electronic sign-stealing during home games en route to their World Series title in 2017 and again in 2018. He suspended manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for one season each, and both were fired by the team. Manfred fined the Astros $5 million, the maximum under MLB rules and stripped the team of its next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

Manfred fined the Red Sox in 2017 for using Apple Watches to pass along signals and fined the Yankees a lesser amount for improper use of a dugout telephone in an earlier year. He concluded in April 2020 that sign-stealing efforts by the Red Sox on their way to the 2018 title were less egregious than those by the 2017 Astros. Alex Cora, who had lost his job as Boston manager, was suspended for the 2020 season for his role as Houston’s bench coach.