LOS ANGELES — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday after both received one-year suspensions from Major League Baseball in the sign-stealing scandal.
“Neither one of them started this, but neither one did anything about it,” Crane told reporters. “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred also fined the team the maximum allowable amount of $5 million and took away the Astros’ first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.
“I find that the conduct of the Astros, and its senior baseball operations executives, merits significant discipline,” Manfred said as part of the nine-page ruling. “I base this finding on the fact that the club’s senior baseball operations executives were given express notice in September 2017 that I would hold them accountable for violations of our policies covering sign stealing, and those individuals took no action to ensure that the club’s players and staff complied with those policies during the 2017 postseason and the 2018 regular season.
“The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated. 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 November, reports first surfaced in The Athletic that the Astros had stolen signs using a center field camera during the 2017 regular season. Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers was the whistleblower.
Former Astros bench coach Alex Cora was identified as the mastermind of the scheme. Cora, now the manager of the Boston Red Sox, was not disciplined, but the report indicates he could still face penalties when MLB concludes its investigation into allegations of sign-stealing by the Red Sox in 2018.
Hinch’s suspension is the longest for an MLB manager since Pete Rose accepted a lifetime ban in 1989.
“I appreciate Commissioner Manfred’s unwavering commitment to upholding the best interests of baseball,” Hinch said in a statement. “I regret being connected to these events, am disappointed in our club’s actions within this timeline, and I accept the Commissioner’s decision. As a leader and Major League Manager, it is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way.
“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.”
The commissioner’s report revealed no evidence that Mr. Crane was aware of the sign-stealing.
“Crane is extraordinarily troubled and upset by the conduct of members of his organization, fully supported my investigation and provided unfettered access to any and all information requested,” Manfred said.
Luhnow released a statement Monday saying that he accepted responsibility for the rules violations on his watch and issued an apology to the organization and its fans, although he denied knowing rules were being broken at the time.
“I am not a cheater,” Luhnow said. “Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. …
“I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct. The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management. … I am deeply upset that I wasn’t informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.”
On Monday, Crane said he would oversee Houston’s baseball operations department for now.
In addition, former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman was suspended for one year for making insensitive and offensive comments to a group of female reporters during the 2019 American League Championship Series.
The MLB suspensions of Hinch, Luhnow and Taubman are effective immediately and end on the day following the completion of the 2020 World Series. — Reuters