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Thoughts on the Red Sox’s Sign Stealing Punishment

Fenway Park, Home of the Red Sox

Fenway Park, Home of the Red Sox

Who said there was no baseball news? After all of the focus on sign stealing and cheating in baseball during Spring Training, part of me thought that Commissioner Rob Manfred would use the international crisis to slip the Red Sox a slap on the wrist for their own sign stealing efforts during the 2018 season. Sure enough, Major League Baseball slipped an announcement about their findings and discipline for the Red Sox (the Executive Summary can be found here, the full report can be found here). Below are my thoughts, in no particular order:

In defense of the commissioner’s office, any punishment handed down to the Red Sox was always going to pale in comparison to the punishment given to the Astros. The Red Sox’s GM during the 2018 season, David Dombrowski, had already been fired for job performance, and manager Alex Cora had already been fired for his role in the Astros’ sign stealing debacle. Additionally, it would be difficult for even the most cynical person to read the report and deduce that the Red Sox’s offenses were anywhere close to as egregious and systematic as the Astros’ culture of cheating. We can argue all day about what the proper punishment should have been for the Astros, but I think that most will agree that the Red Sox did not deserve as severe a punishment as the Astros. I think MLB got it right on that part, at least.

I do find one pretty major intellectual inconsistency, however. In the executive summary, Commissioner Manfred states, “I find that the Red Sox front office consistently communicated MLB’s sign stealing rules to non-player staff and made commendable efforts toward instilling a culture of compliance in their organization.” I know that Manfred has to pat the back of the owners to whom he reports, but really?!? One of the things for which MLB nailed former Astros’ manager AJ Hinch was not doing anything to stop the cheating, despite his verbal commitment to abiding by the rules. A statement like this is pure eye wash. MLB really is working the “rogue actor” angle hard, and absolve the Red Sox of most of their responsibility for the people they employ.

Speaking of rogue actors, does MLB really think that people will believe that video operator, J.T. Watkins, acted alone? Players aren’t stupid. When the video coordinator provides one set of sign sequences (well within the rules) prior to the game, but revises those sequences mid-game for when runners reach base, shouldn’t this have been a red flag for the players?!? I’m sorry, the players and coaches new that rules were being broken. The entire department for which Watkins worked should have also been publicly admonished in the least, and held accountable. That hasn’t happened, and once again, I think that Manfred got it wrong in that respect. Digging just a bit beneath the surface of Manfred’s statements doesn’t paint the “culture of compliance” picture for me.

As for the rest of the punishment? Outside of the fact that I think the Red Sox should have been docked a 1st round pick and received a fine, I’m not sure there’s much more MLB should have reasonably done considering the fact that they pinned the entire cheating scandal on one person. Given that fact, Watkins should feel very lucky that he still can work in an MLB front office.

All-in, the discipline handed down was imperfect, and I’m not sure that I buy everything Manfred is trying to sell in the report. I do agree that the Red Sox’s rule breaking was far less severe than the Astros’, and deserved a lesser sentence as a result. However, I worry that the lack of any admonishment for players and ownership groups as part of Manfred’s statements will lead to teams eventually trying to skirt the rules again in the future. I wish this was the last we’d ever have to discuss this topic, but I fear that we’ll be talking about it for some time to come. For now, at least we know what MLB’s opinion is on the impropriety engaged in by the Red Sox. I’m just not sure the report will hold up over time.


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