Player discipline possible for future sign-stealing offenses

Sports

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) smiles before taking batting practice during spring training baseball practice, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)

Major league players could be punished for future sign-stealing violations in the wake of the Houston Astros’ scandal that only resulted in discipline for managers, coaches and executives.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and union head Tony Clark both said Tuesday that MLB and the players’ association are discussing potential rules changes regarding sign stealing and technology.

“Written proposals have been exchanged, and we have made it clear to MLB that no issue is off the table, including player discipline,” Clark said in a statement.

Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were banned for one season by Manfred and subsequently fired by the team last month after MLB released the findings of its investigation into the Astros. Former bench coach Alex Cora is expected to be disciplined when baseball announces the results of its probe into the Boston Red Sox, who cut ties with Cora as manager due to his involvement with Houston’s illegal sign stealing in 2017 and 2018.

Carlos Beltrán, the only Astros player mentioned in the MLB report, was not disciplined by the league but was let go in his new role as New York Mets manager.

No players were punished by MLB, and opponents from other teams have expressed dismay over that fact since spring training opened last week. Many have also called for Manfred to strip Houston of its 2017 World Series title.

Manfred said he’s never seen so much “commentary from players about other players.”

The commissioner said Tuesday that MLB reached out to the union seeking player cooperation in the probe after initial investigation efforts were unsuccessful. Manfred said the union asked for player immunity in exchange for that cooperation, and Manfred agreed “because we were at a bit of a stalemate,” he said.

Responding to Manfred’s comments Tuesday, Clark said MLB contacted the union to inform it of the investigation on Nov. 13, the day after The Athletic published an article detailing Houston’s scheme. Clark said the players’ association and MLB agreed on player immunity later that day.

“Any suggestion that the association failed to cooperate with the commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue,” Clark said. “We acted to protect the rights of our members, as is our obligation under the law.”

Clark said Astros players were never informed of MLB rules regarding technology-aided sign stealing and noted the commissioner had said after past sign-stealing transgressions years before that club personnel — and not players — would be held responsible for future violations.

He added that among the items now being discussed with the league are “potential rule changes affecting sign stealing, in-game technology and video, data access and usage, club audits and disclosures, player education, and enforcement — including the potential for player discipline.”

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AP Baseball Writer Stephen Hawkins in Scottsdale, Arizona, contributed.

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