Baseball team sack managers after $5m fine for snooping on rivals

Tuesday 14th January 2020 12:00 GMT

AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired after receiving a one-year suspension from Major League Baseball - one of a series of penalties handed out to the Astros following an investigation into sign stealing allegations.

Sign stealing is when a team tries to decode signals given by their opponents as how the pitcher will deliver the ball, which are then passed on to the batter to try and gain a tactical advantage.

Claims against the Astros were first reported by The Athletic in 2017 after their former pitcher Mike Fiers came forward, sparking an MLB probe that found the team had used cameras to gain an unfair advantage.

While sign stealing is considered part of the game, the Astros' conduct during their triumphant 2017 World Series campaign - the first time they had won the title - was seen as a breach of etiquette.

The investigation found that the Astros had used their video-replay staff to decode opposition signs, with the findings subsequently sent to the team bench via phone or text message.

Players in the dugout would then hit rubbish bins to indicate to the batter what kind of pitch they should expect, which league commissioner Rob Manfred said "raised questions about the integrity" of Astros fixtures.

In a nine-page ruling that came with a $5m (£3.9m) fine for the club - the maximum allowed - Mr Manfred said: "I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline.

"And 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."

In addition to the fine and suspensions, Mr Manfred also took away the Astros' first and second-draft picks for the 2020 and 2021 seasons - leaving them at a disadvantage when it comes to picking their squad.

Following the ruling, Astros owner Jim Crane announced he had sacked Hinch and Luhnow.

"Neither one of them started this, but neither one did anything about it," he said.

"We need to move forward with a clean slate."

Hinch said he was "deeply sorry" for not stopping the cheating, while Luhnow said he was "deeply upset" that he was never informed about what was going on "because I would have stopped it".

Both men deny any direct involvement in the scandal, with original whistleblower Fiers having identified former Astros bench coach Alex Cora as the mastermind.

Cora - who has not yet been disciplined - now manages the Boston Red Sox, who are facing their own MLB investigation into allegations of sign stealing during the 2018 season.

The Athletic reported that Red Sox players visited the team's video-replay room and then passed on information to teammates on the field.

The Red Sox - who have said they will "fully cooperate" with the investigation - won more matches than any other side during that season.

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