As the abbreviated 2020 MLB regular season nears an end, the New York Yankees continue their behind-the-scenes legal battle to prevent a letter detailing MLB's investigation into sign-stealing in 2017 be made public. The letter stems from the Red Sox's Apple Watch scandal in 2017, which also resulted in the Yankees being fined for improper use of the dugout phone in previous years.
U.S. District Court judge Jed S. Rakoff ordered a "minimally redacted" version of the letter to be unsealed in June, an order the Yankees are appealing. The appeal is still pending and, according to The Athletic's Evan Drellich, Yankees team president Randy Levine intends to argue the case himself. From Drellich:
"I've argued cases in the court of appeals before," Levine said Monday. "I enjoy the experience, and I'm really looking forward to presenting our case. It should be a really interesting argument."
Levine might be poised to put on a show. He does not regularly appear in courtrooms anymore, and he therefore might be able to argue more aggressively than outside counsel — particularly on the subject of Rakoff's motivations. Rakoff has been accused of grandstanding during past high-profile cases, which the Yankees could attempt to leverage.
Prior to joining the Yankees, Levine worked as an attorney in the Justice Department, and he was deputy mayor of New York City under Rudy Guiliani. He is qualified to argue a case in a courtroom, though it is unusual for a team executive to make such arguments. Corporations typically rely on outside counsel to present their case.
Earlier this year, DraftKings players filed a class action lawsuit against MLB, the Astros and the Red Sox following their sign-stealing scandals, claiming they were defrauded. The letter caught the attention of plaintiffs during the discovery phase. They argue the letter shows commissioner Rob Manfred essentially tried to cover up the extent MLB's sign-stealing scandal.
"There is no justification for public disclosure of the letter," Yankees attorney Jonathan Schiller said in a statement in June. The Yankees are not a party in the lawsuit and argue unsealing the letter would damage their reputation. MLB claims unsealing the letter would hinder their ability to conduct investigations in the future.
In February, former Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira told Joel Sherman of the New York Post the Yankees would use the television broadcast to decode the opponent's signs, then have the runner at second base relay them to the hitter later in the game. He said they did not relay the signs in real-time, however, as the Astros did with their garbage can bangs.
"I don't believe any of my Yankee teammates ever broke the rules by passing along signs to hitters in real time. We would have seen it," Teixeira told Sherman.
Judge Rakoff has noted much of the contents of the letter were revealed in an MLB issued press release in 2017. The letter itself is standard procedure. Whenever MLB conducts an investigation, the commissioner sends a letter to all parties detailing his findings before they are made public.
The Red Sox and especially the Astros were punished harshly earlier this year after it was discovered they illegally stole signs during their championship seasons in 2018 and 2017, respectively. The Red Sox were previously fined for stealing signs in 2017 as well.
Drellich says oral arguments for the appeal could begin in December but are more likely to be pushed into 2021.