NORTH PORT, Fla. – During a gruelling, sometimes testy defence Sunday of his handling of the Houston Astros cheating scandal, commissioner Rob Manfred repeatedly called a desire “to find the facts, to figure out what really went on,” the primary driver of MLB’s investigative process.
“You might look backwards and say, ‘No, I would have made a different decision,’” he said ahead of nearly 30 minutes of back-and-forth with media. “I will tell you this. I think the worst possible outcome for this institution would’ve been if we conducted an investigation and came back and said, ‘You know, we just couldn’t figure out what went on.’ People had a right to know what happened and we did achieve that goal.”
Manfred wanted to push out MLB’s findings and leave it for the public to judge. So in that same spirit, here are some of the concerns and complaints we’ve heard from people in the game and his response to them — with the judgments being left to you:
COMPLAINT: How could MLB allow the Astros to keep the 2017 World Series title? Stripping them of the title immediately is the only suitable punishment for their electronic sign-stealing.
MANFRED: “We thought about it. If you talk about minutes of discussion during the process, it was high in terms of the minutes that we spent talking about it. My thinking involves several points. First of all, it had never happened in baseball. And I’m a precedent guy. I’m not saying you always follow precedent, but I think you ought to start by looking back at the way things have been done. And you have to have a really good reason to depart from that precedent.
“No. 2, I believed that the most fundamental obligation was to get the facts, put them out there and let people make their own judgment as to what happened in the 2017 season, the 2017 World Series. If nothing else, I think we can all agree that we’ve gotten enough facts out there that plenty of people that have made their judgments as to what went on. Once you have a situation in which the 2017 World Series will always be looked at as something different, whether or not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back, I don’t think it makes that much difference. I think we did what we should do, that was we found the facts and we were transparent about them.
“Last, once you go down that road of changing what happens on the field, I just don’t know how you decide where you stop. This has been really fun, but I’d like to move on to other topics at some point.”
CONCERN: The suspensions that led to the firings of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran are one thing. But granting the players immunity in exchange for information allowed them to avoid any real discipline, and they’re only sorry they got caught, not actually sorry.
MANFRED: “I’m more than prepared to tolerate and listen to the debate and criticism about whether or not the punishments that have been levied in this case are sufficient. The one thing that I do take issue with, the notion that anybody in the Houston organization escaped without punishment. If you look at the faces of the Houston players as they’ve been out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this. They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives. And frankly, it’s rare that for any offence, you have a punishment that you will live with for the rest of your life. …
“I don’t think there’s a player in Major League Baseball who relishes the idea of being a 2017 Houston Astro and being out there answering questions about exactly what happened and why it happened.”
COMPLAINT: The players should, under no circumstances, have received immunity. All the information was out there. What kind of precedent is that?
MANFRED: “Each of these situations depends on the sort of investigative environment in which you find yourself. If in fact you were in a situation where you thought you could get the facts without granting immunity, that certainly would’ve been my preference here and would be my preference in the future. The second thing is, to their credit, we’re talking to the MLBPA, not only about the kind of changes in the rules surrounding video, but what should be done about these sorts of issues on a go-forward basis, and exactly how we should deal with players in these types of situations. I envision it being different in the future.”
COMPLAINT: Major League Baseball could have avoided all this because they knew about the Astros’ cheating long before The Athletic broke the word in November. Everyone told them, they chose not to act.
MANFRED: “Post the Apple Watch decision in 2017, we had had complaints from a variety of people about a variety of clubs, including the Astros. In response to every one of those, we undertook an effort to figure out whether we could verify the assertions that were made. Just to give you a feel for some context. Usually those assertions took the form of, ‘We know they have our signs.’ That’s hard to prove something when that’s what you have. I make no bones about it. Without the reporting (by The Athletic, which broke the story) and the availability of Mike Fiers, we probably wouldn’t have gotten where we got on this investigation.
“We looked into it and we couldn’t find any evidence that what had been asserted to us was true.”
COMPLAINT: The Astros were totally using buzzers last year. How can you watch the video of Jose Altuve after the walkoff homer against Aroldis Chapman and draw any other conclusion? That tattoo stuff is a joke. They didn’t stop cheating on their own last year. Come on.
MANFRED: “We were aware of the file film well before we commenced the investigation so it was, in fact, part of the investigation. Here’s where I came down on it. The players were candid about 2017 and the fact that they violated the rules in 2017. They were candid, chapter in verse, consistent about the fact that the rules were violated in 2018, and they were equally consistent in the denials, everybody, every single witness, in the denials about this buzzer allegation.
“In my own mind, it was hard for me to figure out why, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful, admit they did the wrong thing in ’17, admit they did the wrong thing in ’18, and then lie about what was going on in ’19. Can I tell you I’m 100 per cent sure about that? You’re never 100 per cent sure in any of these things, but that was my best judgment.”
CONCERN: None of this is really going to prevent this from happening again. Major League Baseball hasn’t done enough and the video in clubhouses has got to go.
MANFRED: “Based on everything we’ve found in the investigations so far, a lot of the things that we have undertaken in ’18 and ’19 were very effective in terms of limiting this kind of behaviour. Among those would be putting monitors in the replay rooms, recording the telephone conversations that took place on dugout phones, various things that we did. So we’ve kind of been on this project.
“I do expect, I’m going to give you one caveat on this, we are talking to the MLBPA about this still, I do expect that we will for 2020 have really serious restrictions on player and playing personnel access to video in-game. I think it’s really important for us to send a message to our fans that not only did we investigate and punish, but we altered our policies in a way that will help make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
CONCERN: It’s going to be open season on Astros players now since it’s up to opposing pitchers to exact vengeance by throwing at them.
MANFRED: “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. I must be because I’m old, but yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s going on is not healthy. This is another topic on which we’re trying to be proactive. I met with half the managers, the Florida contingent, before I came out here to speak to you guys. I’ll meet the other half in Arizona. I hope that I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated, whether it’s Houston, or anybody else. It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.”