By Sally Egan
The MLB suspended Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch ’96 and general manager Jeff Luhnow for a year following an MLB investigation into accusations that the team used sign-stealing during the 2017 World Series-winning season and part of the 2018 season. An hour later, the Astros fired Luhnow as well as Hinch, who graduated from Stanford with an undergraduate degree in psychology in 1996.
The Astros were also docked first and second round picks in 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined a record $5 million. The league-issued punishment ranks among the largest in MLB history, according to ESPN.
The cheating accusations began in November 2019, when former Astros player Mike Fiers disclosed to The Athletic that the team utilized an elaborate sign-stealing scheme in order to determine which pitches the opponent would be throwing. In baseball, it is strategic to observe the signals that the opposing catcher is giving to his pitcher because it is indicative of the type of pitch that may be thrown. If players and coaches can figure out these signals using conventional, non-electronic methods, they are allowed to try to communicate to their batter what pitches they think will be thrown.
However, as technology has advanced, concerns have increased about the usage of electronics to determine pitch signals, which is what the Astros did during the 2017 season. They placed a camera in the center field of their home stadium, which filmed the catchers’ signals and then relayed this information to a monitor in the Astros’ dugout, according to the nine-page report signed by league commissioner Robert Manfred. Players would then relay these signals to the hitter by banging on trash cans. The usage of cameras to detect signals is strictly forbidden by the league.
The scheme was entirely player-driven, but the league announced no players will be punished because the investigation found that it wouldn’t make sense given that many players are on other teams now and punishing individual players would be difficult because so many were involved. Luhnow claimed to have no knowledge of the scheme, but the report found that “there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts, but he did not give it much attention.”
Hinch knew of the scheme and disapproved of it, even going as far as destroying the monitor used to display the signal on two occasions, but never explicitly punished players, voiced his disapproval to them or made an attempt to permanently stop the conduct, according to the New York Times. In a statement, the Stanford alum wrote, “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.”
Although the Astros have not officially announced replacements for Hinch and Luhnow, current Houston bench coach Joe Espada is expected to be named the interim manager, according to league reporter Mark Feinsand.
Contact Sally Egan at egansj18 ‘at’ stanford.edu.