HOUSTON – Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday after the pair were suspended by Major League Baseball for the team's use of electronics for sign-stealing during Houston's run to the 2017 World Series title and during the 2018 season.
Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the discipline Monday and strongly hinted that current Boston manager Alex Cora – the Astros bench coach in 2017 – will face equal or more severe punishment.
Manfred said Cora developed the sign-stealing system used by the Astros. The Red Sox are under investigation for sign-stealing in Cora's first season as manager in 2018, when Boston won the World Series.
Houston was fined $5 million for sign-stealing, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution. The Astros will forfeit their next two first- and second-round draft picks.
Houston was found guilty of using a TV camera in center field to relay catcher's signals of pitches to its video replay room, and players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming.
“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,” Manfred said.
Manfred said Astros owner Jim Crane was not informed of the sign-stealing system.
An hour after MLB announced its decision, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow were fired.
“We need to move forward with a clean slate,” he said.
Hinch, 45, was the most successful manager of the Astros, who have won two of the last three AL pennants and came within one victory of another World Series title. Luhnow, 53, fostered an analytic culture during eight seasons as Astros GM, but also a toxic one with high turnover.
“It is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department, manifesting itself in the way its employees are treated, its relations with other clubs, and its relations with the media and external stakeholders, has been very problematic,” Manfred wrote in a nine-page statement.
“At least in my view, the baseball operations department's insular culture – one that valued and rewarded results over other considerations, combined with a staff of individuals who often lacked direction or sufficient oversight, led ... finally, to an environment that allowed the conduct described in this report to have occurred.”
Luhnow told Major League Baseball he was unaware of the system, but Manfred held him accountable for the team's actions.
“Although Luhnow denies having any awareness that his replay review room staff was decoding and transmitting signs, there is both documentary and testimonial evidence that indicates Luhnow had some knowledge of those efforts.”
Current New York Mets manager Carlos Beltrán, then a player with the Astros, was among the group involved. Manfred said no Astros players will be disciplined because he decided in September 2017 to hold a team's manager and GM responsible.
“Virtually all of the Astros' players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, and I am not in a position based on the investigative record to determine with any degree of certainty every player who should be held accountable.”
Astros employees in the team's video replay room started to decode signs using the center field camera at the start of the 2017 season.
A player would act as a runner to bring the information to the dugout, where a runner on second would be signaled. The runner would decode the catcher's sign and signal the batter. At times, an employee in the replay room would convey the information by text message to the watch or phone of a staff member in the dugout.
Cora began calling the replay room for the information early in the season.
After a group of players that included Beltrán discussed how to improve the system about two months into the season, Cora arranged for a video monitor of the center field camera to be installed next to the dugout and players would communicate pitches by banging a bat or massage gun on a trash can.
Manfred said the banging system was not used in 2018 but that signs were stolen by the replay room and communicated to the dugout during at least part of that season. There was no evidence signs were stolen during the 2018 playoffs.
Also Monday, former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman was suspended through the World Series for his conduct during last year's AL Championship Series, when his profane remarks directed at female reporters led to his firing by Houston, which at first denied the incident and later apologized.