Luhnow on Astrogate: “I am not a cheater; I didn’t know.” But . . .

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jeff Luhnow of the Houston Astros talks to the media during the press conference during the World Series Workout Day at Nationals Park on Thursday, October 24, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Jeff Luhnow of the Houston Astros talks to the media during the press conference during the World Series Workout Day at Nationals Park on Thursday, October 24, 2019 in Washington, District of Columbia. (Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Former Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow may not have known about Astrogate, but his hands are hardly clean when it comes to the culture that enabled such behavior.

Now-former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow issued a statement, hours after his suspension (by commissioner Rob Manfred) and execution (by Astros owner Jim Crane), apologizing for Astrogate and proclaiming concurrently that he is not a cheater. Well, now.

“I apologize to the Astros organization, Astros fans and the Houston community for the shame and embarrassment this has caused,” Luhnow said in the statement. The phrasing intrigues. A deeper cynic than myself could rejoin that the shame and embarrassment were worse in Luhnow’s view than the Astros’ from-off-the-field electronic sign-stealing. But he continues.

"I am not a cheater . . . 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."

Yes, he just threw 2017 Astros bench coach turned Red Sox manager Alex Cora under the proverbial bus right there. He also dropped the dollar on “players” (he doesn’t say whom or how many, of course) and “lower-level employees” working with Cora at the time. And, he continued, “I am deeply upset that I wasn’t informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.”

Related Story. Hinch and Luhnow get the ban hammer. light

Would he? Hark back to October and the Astros’ American League Championship Series conquest. When his then-assistant GM Brandon Taubman was so [fornicating] glad they’d obtained Roberto Osuna, though Osuna was then still amidst a domestic violence suspension with his legal case still unresolved. (And, as revealed in The MVP Machine, Luhnow all but rammed the deal through despite objections within the Astros’ front office.) When Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein reported the Taubman incident and the Astros smeared Apstein the messenger and waited days before doing what they had to do and executing Taubman.

Luhnow wasn’t exactly fast to condemn Taubman for what everyone else knew was true. After saying Taubman apologized for “inappropriate behavior. . . that he regrets” to a Houston radio station, he continued: “What we really don’t know is the intent behind the inappropriate comments he made. We may never know that because the person who said them and the people who heard them, at least up to this point, have different perspectives. The situation should never have happened.”

He wasn’t exactly that fast on the draw when presented with Taubman’s misconduct and while the Astros occupied themselves with smearing Apstein initially, never mind whether he’d have been faster on the draw if he’d been presented with Astrogate before former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers finally got fed up enough to blow the whistle in November.

Houston Astros
Houston Astros /

Houston Astros

Manfred’s report cited “at least two e-mails” to Luhnow in which the Astros’ espionage operation was mentioned. Luhnow’s deniability was denied after all. Even if Luhnow really didn’t know what was going on with the Astro Intelligence Agency, he isn’t exactly acquitted.

Richard Nixon didn’t know the rules were being broken when men associated with his 1972 re-election campaign broke into Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, either. He learned of the burglary the way we did, by picking up a newspaper the following morning. But he wasn’t exactly swift in demanding names, places, and heads on plates, or avoiding what transpired in due course, being drawn into covering the crime up before having to surrender to reality and resign the presidency.

If we accept Jeff Luhnow really not knowing about the AIA until the Fiers revelation, we can still reject that his first act upon that revelation wasn’t demanding names, places, and heads on plates. We can praise Astros owner Jim Crane likewise for doing what he had to do after Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended from baseball and reject concurrently that Crane, too, didn’t demand names, places, and heads on plates the moment he knew of the AIA.

Hinch, too, is no less diminished even if it’s a little bit simpler to feel for him. He was one of baseball’s brainiest and most sensitive managers. Yet he was indecisive at best and uncertain in strength at worst, when he failed to stop the Astros’ sign-stealing intelligence operation, above and beyond smashing one or two of the notorious clubhouse monitors involved. He, too, might have demanded names, places, and heads on plates, or at least sent to the principal’s office.

And he knows it. “[I]t is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way,” the now-former skipper said in his own statement. “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.”

What, then, of baseball’s government itself? “As forceful and decisive as Manfred’s move seemed Monday,” writes the Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga, “it shouldn’t be forgotten how lax the league office was about monitoring this stuff in the first place.”

"Once there’s a phone in the dugout that goes directly to a video room, and once information is flowing from that room to the participants in the game — be they players, coaches or the manager — then someone should have put into place safeguards to make sure operations such as the Astros’ didn’t develop.. . . That the sport’s powers put into place mechanics that could easily be exploited seems obvious now. It should have been obvious in 2014, when the replay challenge system went into effect. It was not, and the Astros’ sinister ways developed from there."

The Red Sox didn’t go quite so far as the Astros did in removing the mandatory eight-second delay from one center field camera to deliver stolen signs. They merely used their clubhouse replay room and some fancy and swift foot- and mind-work to send signs out to men on base, the kicker being that they needed a man on base for their plot to work in the first place.

Next. Rob Manfred got the Astros punishment right. dark

With Cora culpable in Astrogate before he joined the Red Sox as their manager, marrying that to Soxgate could mean the marriage between Cora and the Red Sox annulled soon enough. With a housecleaning yet to follow. But it wouldn’t be untoward, either, assuming that there were those in the commissioner’s office who could have seen it coming but didn’t or wouldn’t, if Manfred should decide that his office, too, needs a little cleanup hitting.