Houston Astros: Luhnow, Hinch suspended—then fired

MLB announced its punishments regarding the Houston Astros sign-stealing saga. Manager Hinch, GM Jeff Luhnow suspended 1-year–and fired by owner Jim Crane.

Astrogate’s first consequences have hit the proverbial fan. General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch are suspended a year . . . and now gainfully unemployed.

The Houston Astros are also hit with a $5 million fine and the loss of first and second-round draft picks for 2020 and 2021. So broke ESPN’s Jeff Passan Monday midday. Then, Astros owner Jim Crane fired both the GM and the manager who shepherded the team’s greatest success period but enabled the chicanery that now puts that entire success under suspicion.

Among other things, before his firing the Astrogate suspension placed Hinch—considered one of baseball’s most sensitively intelligent managers—into some pretty extinguished company.

He’s the third major league manager to be either suspended or thrown out of baseball entirely in disciplinary moves. Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher missed the entire 1947 season after commissioner Happy Chandler suspended him for continued association with gamblers. And Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in 1989 for gambling on baseball.

Passan says MLB has also threatened Luhnow and Hinch with lifetime banishment if they’re caught violating MLB “material rules” again. It looks for once as though baseball’s government, faced with flagrant rule violations, didn’t just take the standard tack of, “If we catch you doing that again, we’re going . . . to be very, very angry at you!”

Year-long suspensions aren’t exactly slaps on the wrist, such as the Red Sox received when one of theirs was caught training an AppleWatch on the Yankees in late 2017. And before anyone starts asking what about the Red Sox—under investigation for turning their replay room into an espionage bank themselves—don’t think manager Alex Cora (the 2017 Astros’ bench coach) will escape unscathed from the Astrogate/Soxgate mess.

Passan subsequently hit Twitter saying Cora is liable to face Astrogate related discipline and it’s liable to be “harsh.” MLB’s formal statement on the Astros’ consequences specifies Cora as a “ringleader” along with Carlos Beltran (DH for the ’17 Houston Astros; now the Mets’ manager), but Cora won’t face disciplinary measures until it finishes investigating the Soxgate side of the high-tech cheating scandal.

Beltran isn’t liable to face Astrogate discipline, though, Passan says, because he was a player. In other words—unlike, say, the 1970s New York police corruption scandals, where the city seemed more interested in punishing “flunky cops” than the bosses who let it fester, before clean cops Frank Serpico and David Durk blew the whistle in the first place—MLB is looking to hit the bosses who let the high-tech cheaters operate or helped operate the schemes themselves, not just some flunky players who helped themselves to the stolen signs. So far.

The MLB statement said Hinch didn’t originate Astrogate or support the players who did, and that the manager was “very remorseful” over it, but neither did he stop the espionage nor tell them he disapproved of it. “As the person with responsibility for managing his players and coaches,” the statement said, “there simply is no justification for Hinch’s failure to act.”

Don’t be surprised if Cora turns out to be hit with the heaviest punishments of any Astrogate/Soxgate figures. The guy who told the Red Sox whom he’d just joined as manager, “You guys were easy to game-plan against—too many bad takes,” is at the core of the worst take possible now. Part and parcel of Astrogate; prospective instigator or at least facilitator of Soxgate. Or so it appears pending the details yet to emerge.

If The Athletic‘s reporters Ken Rosenthal and Even Drellich can be called Astrogate’s version of Watergate reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, then former Houston Astros pitcher Mike Fiers—now with the Athletics, but stopping with the Tigers for 2018—can be considered its Frank Serpico. He traversed the usual let-it-stay-here/when-you-leave-here law of the clubhouse to blow the whistle on the Astro Intelligence Agency in the first place in November.

First, he warned his subsequent teams that the Astros committed espionage. Then, he finally couldn’t bear it any longer and dropped the dollar on it to Rosenthal and Drellich. Making it even more jaw-dropping: this wasn’t just a league bottom feeder looking for whatever little edges they could get even as their seasons were described fairly as seasons in hell.

This was a team that rebuilt its organization from the bottom up, just about, and became a three-straight American League West winner, a two-time pennant winner, and a World Series champion in the first of those three years. And it proved also to be a team that beat out the 1951 Giants—Durocher’s team—for deploying high-tech cheating to enable their postseason arrival in the first place.

Things were bad enough for the Astros when now-former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman was fool enough to say, within earshot of three woman reporters still in the clubhouse after their American League Championship Series triumph, that he was so [fornicating] glad the Astros had obtained reliever Roberto Osuna—never mind that they got him while Osuna’s domestic violence case was yet to be resolved.

They went from bad to worse when Fiers blew the whistle on the AIA, so to say.

No, the Astros certainly weren’t the first team to go high-tech with cheating assistance from off the field. Among others, other than the ’51 Giants, there were:

* The 1940 Tigers—Using the telescopic sight of pitcher Tommy Bridges’ hunting rifle to steal signs from the Briggs Stadium stands in left and center field. (They won the pennant but lost the World Series.)

* The 1948 Indians—First baseman Eddie Robinson eventually acknowledged that the Indians had someone training a telescope aboard a tripod inside the Municipal Stadium scoreboard for a little espionage down the stretch and won 20 of their last 26—including the fabled pennant tiebreaker against the Red Sox. (The Indians won the ’48 World Series.)

* The 1977 Yankees—The story goes that that year’s Rangers were so convinced Yankee manager Billy Martin (a man about whom “scrupulous” would be applied jokingly alone) was bugging opposing clubhouses that they once ordered the Yankee Stadium visitors’ clubhouse to be swept for bugs. Whether by electronics experts or exterminators or both remains up to conjecture.

* The 1990 White Sox—Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, then managing the Orioles, caught White Sox coach Joe Nossek behind the first base dugout with a walkie talkie sending stolen Oriole signs to White Sox skipper Jeff Torborg. A year later, Robinson suspected Torborg and company were doing their own Soxgate stuff: using a video room behind the home dugout in Comiskey Park to steal signs. Robinson and the Orioles complained to the league office about both. And both got three responses: jack, diddley, and squat.

Among others.

Think if you must that Luhnow and Hinch got off easy even if they were fired post haste. Think if you must that a $5 million fine and losing a quartet of high-round draft picks isn’t enough. But before you start to think that the Astros got spanked for what “everyone” does and that it’s all just gamesmanship, anyway, remind yourself first that there’s a difference between on-the-field gamesmanship and from-off-the-field espionage. Then, remember the counsel of a certain former commissioner, who was the first president of the National League, when he denied the appeal of a pitcher caught cheating.

Cheating, wrote A. Bartlett Giamatti,

[is] not the result of impulse, borne of frustration or anger or zeal as violence is, but are rather acts of a cool, deliberate, premeditated kind. Unlike acts of impulse or violence, intended at the moment to vent frustration or abuse another, acts of cheating are intended to alter the very conditions of play to favour one person. They are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner—that all participants play under identical rules and conditions. Acts of cheating destroy that necessary foundation and thus strike at the essence of a contest. They destroy faith in the games’ integrity and fairness; if participants and spectators alike cannot assume integrity and fairness and proceed from there, the contest cannot in its essence exist . . . Cheating is contrary to the whole purpose of playing to determine a winner fairly and cannot be simply contained; if the game is to flourish and engage public confidence, cheating must be clearly condemned with an eye to expunging it.

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