MLB sign-stealing investigation turns to Cora, Red Sox

  • MLB announced Monday that it would penalize the Houston Astros for illegally stealing signs during their World Series championship season in 2017. Here, manager AJ Hinch walks into the dugout from the locker room before a game against the Seattle Mariners at Minute Maid Park in Houston on Sept. 8, 2019. GETTY IMAGES/TNS FILE

  • Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday discipline against the Houston Astros for stealing signs in their 2017 World Series season and strongly hinted that current Boston manager Alex Cora, pictured — the Houston bench coach in 2017 — will receive discipline for being the alleged architect of the scheme and for a similar one with the Red Sox in 2018. AP File

Associated Press
Published: 1/13/2020 9:05:47 PM
Modified: 1/13/2020 9:05:00 PM

Alex Cora could be the next World Series-winning manager sent home for stealing signs.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said the Red Sox skipper was “an active participant” in the sign-stealing scandal that cost Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs Monday. Cora was Houston’s bench coach when the team used electronics to illegally steal signs en route to a World Series championship in 2017.

The commissioner said Cora was among those who “originated and executed” aspects of the cheating scheme, in which the team used a center field camera to decode catchers’ signals to pitchers and banged on a trash can with a bat or massage gun near the dugout to let hitters know which pitch was coming.

Manfred is withholding discipline for Cora until concluding a separate investigation into allegations that Boston used electronics to steal signs in 2018, when the Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 regular season games and a World Series in Cora’s first season as manager.

The Red Sox did not immediately comment on the report. Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner and president Sam Kennedy did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Manfred’s nine-page report mentioned Cora by name 11 times — more than any individual except Hinch or Luhnow, who were fired by owner Jim Crane one hour after Manfred suspended them for the 2020 season.

“Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs,” Manfred wrote. “Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’s conduct.”

It's uncertain when MLB will conclude its investigation into the Red Sox. The senior assistant on the Red Sox staff is bench coach Ron Roenicke, who managed the Brewers from 2011-15. He had a 342-331 record in Milwaukee, leading the team to an NL Central title in his first season there and finishing second in the NL manager of the year voting.

In U.S. sports’ largest scandal since the New England Patriots’ “Spygate,” Manfred announced the discipline and strongly hinted that Cora — the Astros bench coach in 2017 — will face equal or more severe punishment.

Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, as punishment. The Astros will also forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

Sign stealing is a legal and time-honored part of baseball as long as it is done with the naked eye — say, by a baserunner standing on second. Using technology is prohibited.

Astros players disputed whether knowing the pitches seconds in advance helped batters. Houston had fewer wins at home than on the road, winning 94 home games and 110 on the road during the two seasons. There was no sign-stealing system on the road.

“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, in his most significant action since becoming commissioner five years ago, said Hinch failed to stop the sign stealing and Luhnow was responsible for the players’ conduct even though he made the dubious claim he was not aware. Manfred said Crane was not informed.

An hour after MLB announced its punishment, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow were fired.

“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I’m going above and beyond MLB’s penalty,” he said. “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”

Both Luhnow’s and Hinch’s suspensions for the 2020 season were to be without pay. Crane said he will look outside the organization and internally for candidates to replace Luhnow. If he hires internally, the most likely candidate would be Pete Putila, who was promoted to assistant general manager this offseason.

Crane, who said he learned of the discipline this weekend, was visibly upset during Monday's news conference and insisted that Houston’s championship, which culminated in a seven-game World Series over the Los Angeles Dodgers, was not tainted.

“We want to be known as playing by the rules,” he said. “We broke the rules. We accept the punishment and we’re going to move forward ... if you read the report neither (Luhnow or Hinch) implemented this or pushed it through the system and (it) really came from the bottom up.”

Hinch’s penalty was among the longest for an MLB manager. Brooklyn’s Leo Durocher was suspended for one year by Commissioner Happy Chandler in April 1947 for the “accumulation of unpleasant incidents” detrimental to baseball, and Cincinnati’s Pete Rose was banned for life by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in August 1989 for betting on Reds’ games while managing the team.




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