Houston Astros: Jeff Luhnow maintains ignorance of sign stealing

Nov 12, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow speaks during media availability at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 12, 2019; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow speaks during media availability at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Fired Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow continues to deny any knowledge of their sign-stealing scandal

For the first time since his suspension by Major League Baseball and subsequent firing by Houston Astros team owner Jim Crane, former Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has spoken out in detail about the sign-stealing scandal.

Houston TV station KPRC published a video of a lengthy interview conducted recently by reporter Vanessa Richardson with Luhnow. The gist of the interview: Luhnow denies any knowledge of either the use of monitors to steal signs mechanically in real time or of the trash can lid banging method of communicating those signs to players.

He says he believes he was suspended because MLB needed a scapegoat in order to demonstrate its seriousness about dealing with cheating, and he became that scapegoat.

The full interview is available here.

Luhnow’s statements on some critical aspects appear contradictory. At one point he asserts that “I didn’t know we were cheating. I had no idea. I wasn’t involved. Major League Baseball’s report stated that I didn’t know anything about the trash can banging scheme. They stated I might have known something about the video decoding scheme and not paid it much attention. But there was really no credible evidence of that claim. I didn’t know. I didn’t know about either of them. And it felt like, on that day, that I was getting punished for something that I didn’t do.”

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Yet at another point, he reports that “during the season in 2018, about five different times, either because I noticed it myself or because MLB called me (and) said ‘we think there might be a potential violation here,’ I followed up quickly, I followed up vigorously, I talked to the coaching staff, I talked to the video room staff. And I told them, ‘we’ve been accused of a violation, let’s make sure we’re doing everything right.’

If one accepts everything Luhnow says, then he was punished for lack of awareness. It is the playing out of the old administrative admonition, “knew or should have known.” Luhnow admits he heard allegations in 2018 and ignored them. “In fact at two points in time, someone from MLB told me either in a casual conversation or called me, and said there had been rumors of the Astros sign-stealing in 2017,” he said. “But, I wasn’t asked to follow-up on it, they weren’t asking me to do anything. It was sort of a heads-up, and I didn’t think we were doing anything so I didn’t pursue it.”

He admits that the evidence supports the conclusion that the Astros cheated. “Our team broke the rules. And I’m sure there was some advantage gained from breaking the rules.”

He said that following his firing by Crane, “I got access to about 22,000 text messages that were from personnel in the video room. And it was clear from those messages that they were communicating back and forth about the rule violations. … They were communicating signs, and this was to coaches, to people in the video room. It’s all there in black and white.”

But he also found a specific effort by those involved to keep him in the dark. “I’m not implicated,” he said. “I’m not in any of those text messages. In fact, there’s a few text messages where they say ‘Don’t tell Jeff’.”

Luhnow said when he met with commissioner Rob Manfred, he volunteered to take a lie detector test. That request was turned down. He is convinced that the commissioner had already made up his mind to make  a scapegoat of Luhnow.

“I mean, they extended the investigation for about two weeks just so they could find more evidence about me. And how do I know that? I was told that, directly, from somebody working on the investigation, that ‘you are the target of this investigation, and they are going to continue to dig until they find something on you.’”

Luhnow said he is convinced that MLB targeted him because it had promised the players they would not be punished, it could not punish Crane, and it had to make an example of somebody.

He said it “had to deliver a punishment that was perceived as severe to the other clubs. The Dodgers, and other clubs, but I know the Dodgers for sure, were adamant about some big punishments. And they wanted the manager, and they wanted the general manager to go down in this scandal. And they got it.”

He said he is convinced the investigation “was not attempting to really uncover who did what, and who was really responsible. The goal of the investigation was to deliver punishments that Rob could feel good about and that would calm the panic.”

He places the blame for maintenance of the improper sign-stealing methods on “the group, the cabal if you want to call it, of people in the video room and aligned with the coaches who were executing the video decoding scheme, that they started thinking about it towards the end of 2016. And then really about May of 2017 is when you start to see evidence of execution.

“And they weren’t hiding it in terms of their discussions with one another. It was pretty blatant.” He said he is convinced the illegal methods continued through all of Houston’s 2017 championship season and some distance into 2018.

“It probably stopped around mid-summer ’18, and then there’s absolutely no evidence of it going on after that. But the reality is, the Astros cheated in 2017, and cheated a little bit again in 2018 using just the decoder method, and it was wrong, and it should never have happened, and I’m upset. I’m really upset that it happened.”

He rejects what he described as media portrayals of him as the scandal’s organizing force. “It’s been hard to read and hear how I’ve been portrayed in the media. That I was the mastermind, that I was behind this, that I was somehow involved in this.”

“I didn’t know. I wasn’t involved. Major League Baseball said I wasn’t involved in the trash can banging, and they say I didn’t direct and wasn’t involved in the video scheme. The only thing they hung their hat on is that I might have known and that I was the general manager.”

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Luhnow was not asked, and did not volunteer information, on how a system as elaborate and costly as surreptitiously installing cameras and monitors could have been accomplished without requiring purchasing approval from the general manager’s office.