HOUSTON — The Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal cost manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs, and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora could be next.
Hinch and Luhnow were fired Monday after being suspended by Major League Baseball for the team’s illicit use of electronics to steal signs during Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 season.
In U.S. sports’ largest scandal since the New England Patriots’ “Spygate,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the discipline and strongly hinted that Cora — the Astros bench coach in 2017 — will face equal or more severe punishment. Manfred said Cora developed the sign-stealing system used by the Astros. The Red Sox are under investigation for stealing signs in Cora’s first season as manager in 2018, when Boston won the World Series.
Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, as punishment. The Astros will also forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.
The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a centre field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.
Sign stealing is a legal and time-honoured part of baseball as long as it is done with the naked eye — say, by a baserunner standing on second. Using technology is prohibited.
Astros players disputed whether knowing the pitches seconds in advance helped batters. Houston had fewer wins at home than on the road, winning 94 home games and 110 on the road during the two seasons. There was no sign-stealing system on the road.
“While it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game,” Manfred said.
Manfred, in his most significant action since becoming commissioner five years ago, said Hinch failed to stop the sign stealing and Luhnow was responsible for the players’ conduct even though he made the dubious claim he was not aware. Manfred said owner Jim Crane was not informed.
An hour after MLB announced its punishment, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow were fired.
“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I’m going above and beyond MLB’s penalty,” he said. “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”
Both Luhnow’s and Hinch’s suspensions for the 2020 season were to be without pay. Crane said he will look outside the organization and internally for candidates to replace Luhnow. If he hires internally, the most likely candidate would be Pete Putila, who was promoted to assistant general manager this off-season.
Crane, who said he learned of the discipline this weekend, was visibly upset during Monday’s news conference and insisted that Houston’s championship, which culminated in a seven-game World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers, was not tainted.
“We want to be known as playing by the rules,” he said. “We broke the rules. We accept the punishment and we’re going to move forward … if you read the report neither (Luhnow or Hinch) implemented this or pushed it through the system and (it) really came from the bottom up.”
Hinch’s penalty was among the longest for an MLB manager. Brooklyn’s Leo Durocher was suspended for one year by Commissioner Happy Chandler in April 1947 for the “accumulation of unpleasant incidents” detrimental to baseball, and Cincinnati’s Pete Rose was banned for life by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in August 1989 for betting on Reds’ games while managing the team.
Houston was a big league-best 204-120 during the two years in question, winning its first title. Hinch, a 45-year-old former catcher with a degree from Stanford, was the most successful manager in the history of the Astros, who have won two of the last three AL pennants and came within one victory of another World Series title last year against Washington. Luhnow, 53, earned an MBA at Northwestern and fostered an analytic-based culture during eight seasons as Astros GM, but also a toxic one with high turnover.
“It is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic,” Manfred wrote in a nine-page statement. “At least in my view, the baseball operations department’s insular culture — one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led … finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”
Crane, who hired Luhnow weeks after buying the Astros, denied a widespread problem, saying “I think there was some isolated situations.”
Luhnow said in a statement that he accepts responsibility “for rules violations that occurred on my watch as president of baseball operations and general manager of the Astros” and apologized to the team and fans for “the shame and embarrassment this has caused.”
Then Luhnow defended himself.
“I am not a cheater,” the statement said. “Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. I did not know rules were being broken. As the commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct: The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach. I am deeply upset that I wasn’t informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.”
Hinch issued a statement through the Astros, saying he was “disappointed in our club’s actions within this timeline, and I accept the Commissioner’s decision.
“As a leader and major league manager, it is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way,” the statement said. “While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry.”
Manfred said Hinch was aware of the system but did not tell Luhnow.
“As the person with responsibility for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justification for Hinch’s failure to act,” Manfred said.
The GM told Major League Baseball he was unaware of the system, but Manfred held him accountable for the team’s actions.
“Although Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs, there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts,” Manfred’s report said.
Baseball’s response was far greater than that of the NFL to a similar infraction. New England coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 in 2007 and the Patriots were penalized $250,000 for using video to capture an opponent’s signals. The Patriots also were stripped of a first-round draft choice for punishment in the scandal known as “Spygate.” They were penalized again for $1 million eight years later for deflating footballs used in the AFC championship game. The NFL took away a first-round draft pick and suspended quarterback Tom Brady for four games.
Current New York Mets manager Carlos Beltrán, then a player with the Astros, was among the group involved. Manfred said no Astros players will be disciplined because he decided in September 2017 to hold a team’s manager and GM responsible for sign-stealing infractions.
“Virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable.”
Baseball’s investigation began when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers, now with Oakland, made the allegations in a report by The Athletic on Nov. 12.
Sign stealing has a long history in baseball — the New York Giants used a military field scope and buzzer during their 1951 tiebreaker playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers. While decoding with the naked eye is allowed, MLB has enacted increasingly stringent prohibitions in recent years against the use of electronics to spy on opponents.
MLB’s Department of Investigations interviewed 27 witnesses, including 23 current and former Houston players, and reviews tens of thousands of emails, Slack communications, text messages, video clips and photographs.
Astros employees in the team’s video replay room started to decode signs using a centre field camera at the start of the 2017 season. A player would act as a runner to bring the information to the dugout, where a runner on second would be signalled. The runner would decode the catcher’s sign and signal the batter. At times, an employee in the replay room would convey the information by text message to the watch or phone of a staff member in the dugout.
Cora began calling the replay room for the information early in the season. After a group of players that included Beltrán discussed how to improve the system about two months into the season, Cora arranged for a video monitor of a centre field camera to be installed next to the dugout, and players would communicate pitches by banging a bat or massage gun on a trash can. Two bangs usually were used for off-speed pitches and no sound for fastballs.
Manfred said the banging system was not used in 2018 but that signs were stolen by the replay room and communicated to the dugout in person during at least part of that season. There was no evidence signs were stolen during the 2018 playoffs.
The Mets and Beltrán declined to comment, spokesman Harold Kaufman said.
Manfred left it to the Astros whether to discipline lower-level employees found to be involved in the sign stealing.
“Lower-level employees were taking direction from senior, either players or coaches,” Crane said. “And so in my opinion it can be difficult to hold them to the same standard we hold to the leaders. But we’ll review that … and deal with that shortly.”
Also Monday, former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman was suspended through the World Series for his conduct during last year’s AL Championship Series, when his profane remarks directed at female reporters led to his firing by Houston, which at first denied the incident and later apologized.
Taubman can apply to Manfred for reinstatement after the World Series. Any future violations of Major League Rules by Hinch, Luhnow or Taubman would lead to a lifetime ban.
Flames open road trip with win for Sutter against his former team – Sportsnet.ca
LOS ANGELES — Sitting in the bowels of a Staples Center arena in which he raised two Stanley Cups, Darryl Sutter was asked about the drive to win another one.
“It’s, like, all that matters to me,” said the Flames’ singularly-focused coach. “You’re trying to translate that to the players, to get to that level that it takes. And the difference it makes in a career and their lives.”
The difference Sutter helped make in Los Angeles was recognized seven minutes into Thursday’s Flames win when he and Trevor Lewis were saluted in a Jumbotron video that drew a standing ovation from a sparse crowd of 13,241.
Guiding the Kings to the franchise’s first Cup win in his first season as their head coach in 2012, Sutter became just the 19th coach in NHL lore to win multiple titles when he won again in 2014.
He’s had a similar, early impact in Calgary where his Flames continue to be the talk of the league, improving their record to a best-in-the-west 14-4-5 with a 3-2 win over his former team.
He wouldn’t say it afterward, but you can bet it meant just a little bit more for him to see his club win one at Staples.
“Some of the players that went through here before told me they probably would,” shrugged Sutter of the video. “It’s good. Good for Trevor, and good for my family.”
Darryl Sutter & Trevor Lewis react to the arena tribute as they both make their returns to the Staples Center. pic.twitter.com/7Kh7iw9NaF
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 3, 2021
Although he did his best to downplay it before and afterwards, this game was important to Sutter.
And the players knew it.
“We wanted to win it for our coach, we wanted to win it for Lewis and his return, and we wanted to get our first win in our division,” said Milan Lucic, whose second power play unit played a big role in the win, with two first period goals.
“Those are all important things for us tonight. It’s always nice to start a four-game trip off in the win column.”
Lucic went five-hole for the fourth time this season to put the Flames up 2-1 in a first period that also saw Andrew Mangiapane score with the man advantage.
“I looked up and saw defence and went back to it — it’s a high percentage shot,” said a smiling Lucic of the between-the-wickets shot that has helped him score the majority of his seven goals.
“If it misses it hits the pads and stays alive, as opposed to a shot in the glove. It seems to be working out. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I’d love to tell you how I set it up, but I don’t want the goalies to know what my thought process is. So we’ll just leave it at that.”
Not surprisingly, Lucic got the starting nod alongside fellow Kings alumni Lewis and Brad Richardson as part of Sutter’s gritty All the King’s Men Line.
“My buddies call us the Full Pension Line, which I thought was funny,” laughed Lewis of a nickname offered up by childhood friend and former Flame, Shane O’Brien.
“But whatever you guys want to call it.”
An Alex Iafallo redirection gave the opposition the opening goal for just the fifth time in 23 games — and first on the road — five minutes in.
Mangiapane responded with his 16th before Lucic struck.
Minutes after taking the lead Matthew Tkachuk did his best to resurrect his feud with Drew Doughty with a gritty shift on which he knocked the Kings defender down with a reverse hit before punctuating the whistle with a pair of net-side punches to Doughty’s face.
The second poke drew a penalty the Flames killed off as part of yet another perfect night that saw the unit stop both of L.A.’s man advantages.
Even scoreboard urging from Snoop Dogg couldn’t spur on the Kings.
Top cheese Tkachuk.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 3, 2021
Tkachuk wound up with the last laugh as he used Doughty as a screen to score his 11th of the season — a top-shelf beauty that stood as the winner early in the second.
“Whoever the defenceman was on that side I just tried to shoot it through him, and it worked out,” said Tkachuk. “I’m sure if you asked (Sutter) he wouldn’t want us to be extra motivated for him. He’d say he wanted us to come in here and get off on this road trip on the right foot and don’t worry about his homecoming. But it was big to get them the win.”
Alexander Edler’s first as a King narrowed the gap late in the second, setting up a third period push that saw Lewis make a key block after Jacob Markstrom made a stunning glove save on Victor Arvidsson’s point blast — one of 40 saves on the night.
The Flames play in Anaheim Friday as part of a four-game road trip that takes them through Vegas and San Jose.
“I think it’s really good for our team, and it’s another measuring stick to see where you are at when you get into the division part of it,” said Sutter before the game when asked about the trip against division rivals.
“This trip there are two we haven’t played and two we haven’t beaten.”
Make that one they haven’t beaten.
NOTES: The Flames sent Juuso Valimaki to Stockton to get some much-needed playing time, as the 23-year-old first-rounder has only been used in eight of the team’s 23 games this season.
Prediction Time: CFL.ca writers' Div Finals picks – CFL.ca
TORONTO — The anticipation is building by the day as we get closer to our Eastern and Western Division Finals on Sunday.
A pair of longtime rivals are the final four teams standing and on Sunday we’ll find out which of those two make it to the 108th Grey Cup next week in Hamilton.
If you’re looking for sound, stable and successful advice, look no further than our Jamie Nye. Tied for first-place with Pat Steinberg with a 39-26 record, Jamie was the only one of the six CFL.ca writers that went 2-0 last week, wisely taking the Ticats and Riders to hold court at home. This week they’re both on the road, heading into Toronto and Winnipeg, respectively, to take on the first place Argos and Bombers.
Home field didn’t carry quite as much weight in the East with the pick-makers as it did in the West this week, despite the Argos’ 6-1 record at BMO Field. Just about everyone is on board with the Bombers hosting at IG Field, a place where they haven’t had the taste of defeat all season. The last time the Bombers lost at home was Sept. 27, 2019. That Week 16 loss to Hamilton came a couple of weeks before the Bombers traded for Zach Collaros.
The Riders have a hill to climb this week and they seem to recognize that. The Ticats have a hill of their own, having dropped three of their four meetings with the Argos this season, including their Week 15 encounter that clinched first in the East for the Double Blue.
We’re just days away from having answers and knowing who will be playing for the Grey Cup, setting up a true Sunday Funday.
HAM at TOR
The Argos might have one of the most underappreciated home field records in recent league history. Standing at an impressive 6-1 — the blemish coming in a meaningless end-of-season tilt with Edmonton — they won’t be an easy out at BMO Field. There’s pressure on each side to win of course, but there’s a little more on the Ticats, who beat the Argos in their first meeting on Labour Day, then dropped their next three meetings, with encounters No. 2 and 3 being one-point losses. Still, the majority of our pick makers think the Ticats can do it, coming off of a convincing win over Montreal last week. A traveling pack of supporters making the trip up the QEW might help pack the stands on Sunday and will try to even out that home field advantage.
Writers 66% Hamilton
SSK at WPG
The Riders get one last crack at the blue and gold riddle they haven’t been able to solve on Sunday afternoon. This edition of the Bombers might stand as one of the franchise’s all-time great teams, led by a defence that feasts on turnovers and miscues, and is steered on offence by Zach Collaros‘ calm and deliberate style of play. The defending Grey Cup champs come into this game as rested as can be, will have the support of a packed IG Field and have been focused on the next game in front of them since we kicked the season off back in August. The Riders will likely have to be close to perfect to take them down. Going into the game, it feels like a very tall order.
Writers 83% Winnipeg
Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo misses game vs. Raptors for undisclosed reason – Sportsnet.ca
Antetokounmpo was not among the Bucks’ starters ahead of tipoff. Pat Connaughton was moved into his place in the starting lineup against the Raptors.
The 26-year-old is coming off a dominant performance against the Charlotte Hornets where he had 40 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in a 127-125 victory. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists through 21 games this season.
Milwaukee’s next game is on Saturday against the Miami Heat.
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Flames open road trip with win for Sutter against his former team – Sportsnet.ca
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