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Manfred regrets Astros sign-stealing immunity decision

Rob Manfred
Commissioner Rob Manfred conducts his annual -ASG Town Hall at -FanFest

Commissioner Rob Manfred conducts his annual #ASG Town Hall at #FanFest.” by Arturo Pardavila III is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 .

One of the biggest MLB controversies of recent years, the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal, and the way it was dealt with still lingers on even three years after its resolution. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred took heavy criticism for his role in it and has admitted he still has regrets about at least one of his decisions at the time.

The scandal dates back to 2017 when the Astros won their first-ever World Series, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games. This achievement was thrown into disrepute two years later after an investigation by The Athletic into the Astros’ use of cameras during that season to illegally steal signs from their opponents.

Trash Can Strategies

Sign stealing is when players try to decode the signs given between pitchers and catchers to work out what the next pitch will be and dates back as far as the 1870s. In 2017 the Astros used videos, Microsoft Excel, text messages, smartwatches and trash cans to steal signs and communicate them to their team-mates.

In 2020 the Astros were fined a maximum penalty of $5 million as well as losing their first and second-round draft picks for the next two years. They were allowed to keep their 2017 World Series title, however, with Manfred catching flak for calling the trophy “a piece of metal” in an interview.

General manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager A. J. Hinch were both suspended for the entire 2020 season and were fired by the Astros the same day. Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora also lost his job – albeit temporarily – for his role in the scandal while he had been with the Astros.

Immunity controversy

However, despite their involvement in sign stealing, none of the Astros players faced any punishment because they had been given immunity by MLB for cooperating with the investigation. 

This was not a popular decision at the time and while the Astros were initially shielded from public rebuke by the lack of fans in ballparks during the Covid-impacted 2020 season, they were regularly booed and heckled in 2021 and since.

Now Manfred has admitted that he may have made the wrong call: “I’m not sure that I would have approached it with giving players immunity,” Manfred told Time. “Once we gave players immunity, it puts you in a box as to what exactly you were going to do in terms of punishment.

“I might have gone about the investigative process without that grant of immunity and see where it takes us. Starting with, I’m not going to punish anybody, maybe not my best decision ever.

“There are some decisions that I would like to have back. There’s absolutely no question about that. Some of the decisions surrounding the Houston situation… I would like to have those back.

“I mean, if I could take back the rather flip comment I made about the World Series trophy at one time, I’d take that one back. There have been times, particularly in times of pressure, when I look back, taking a little more time might have led to a different outcome.”

Written and distributed by Chat T Sports.

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