Roughly four weeks ago, Houston Astros for what commissioner Rob Manfred called the "banging scheme." The Astros were busted illegally stealing signs in 2017 and 2018. The scheme involved banging a nearby trash can to relay the signs to the hitter at the plate.the
Here is a recap of Houston's punishment:
- $5 million fine (maximum allowed by MLB Constitution)
- Manager A.J, Hinch suspended one year (he was then fired)
- GM Jeff Luhnow suspended one year (he was also fired)
- Top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021 forfeited
, Manfred explained the Astros stole signs illegally throughout their 2017 World Series season and early in 2018 as well. The report says the investigation "revealed no evidence to suggest that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme." There appears to be more to the story, however.
According to a bombshell report by the Wall Street Journal's Jared Diamond, Manfred sent Luhnow a letter 11 days before the discipline was announced saying "there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew -- and overwhelming evidence that you should have known -- that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB's rules."
Diamond reports an intern showed Luhnow an algorithm used to decode signs in September 2016. The spreadsheet, nicknamed "Codemaker," was fairly rudimentary -- someone would manually input the sign sequence and the pitch, and the algorithm would decipher the pattern -- but illegal nonetheless. The system was also referred to internally as the team's "dark arts."
The Astros used Codebreaker to decode signs during home and road games, according to Diamond, and the information was passed on to the dugout. As Manfred detailed in his report, the information was initially used by runners at second base. Eventually the Astros started banging on garbage cans to cut out the middle man and relay signs even with the bases empty.
Manfred's report says Luhnow received at least two emails about the sign-stealing scheme. Diamond adds that Luhnow told MLB's investigators he did not read them in their entirety. From the Wall Street Journal:
But while the league collected evidence that showed Luhnow was aware of Codebreaker's existence and capabilities, it couldn't prove that he knew how it was used. In response to Manfred's letter, Luhnow presented investigators with a binder with more than 170 pages that cast at least some doubt on the contents of the initial letter, according to multiple familiar with the matter.
These people described the situation as a "he said-he said" between Luhnow and Tom Koch-Weser, the team's director of advance information, who sent two emails to Luhnow in 2017 that referenced "the system" and "our dark arts, sign-stealing department."
Luhnow opened the emails, but told investigators he did not read to the bottom of them.
Astros employees told investigators there was no attempt to hide Codebreaker from Luhnow. Manfred's letter says Luhnow was aware of Codebreaker, the team's sign-stealing algorithm, but his final report says there was no evidence Luhnow knew about the banging scheme. Luhnow knew they were stealing signs but not how they relayed them. Semantics.
According to Diamond, an email to Luhnow said the sign-stealing became less effective later in the 2017 season as teams around the league began to catch on. Luhnow replied to the email, "How much of this stuff do you think [Hinch] is aware of?" according to Diamond. Luhnow told investigators he did not read the entire email due to its length.
No players were disciplined for their role in the banging scheme. Players were promised immunity in exchange for cooperating with investigators, and, in a 2017 memo, Manfred said the manager and general manager would be held accountable for sign-stealing. That's what happened here. Luhnow and Hinch were suspended, and later fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.
Given the scope of the banging scheme -- we know the Astros stole signs in at least two seasons -- it is possible if not likely more information will come out as time goes on. It's already happened with Diamond's report about Codebreaker. As we learn more about the sign-stealing scheme, the more it'll look like the Astros and Luhnow escaped with a slap on the wrist.
Also, it's fair to wonder why Codebreaker was not included in Manfred's final report. The report detailed how the Astros stole signs and when they stole signs, and implied who ran the scheme (Beltran and Cora), but there was no mention of Codebreaker. What else is being kept from baseball fans and rival teams?