NORTH PORT, Fla. -- MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke Sunday afternoon at Grapefruit League media day and answered a variety of questions regarding the baseball world’s reaction to the punishments the Astros received for illegal sign-stealing in 2017 and 2018.
“When we began the investigation after we became aware of the Houston situation, we started with an important and fundamental goal and that goal was to make sure that we found the facts, completed the investigation, figured out what was going on and put ourselves in a position to be as transparent with our fans and the other clubs as possible,” Manfred said. “Our desire to find the facts, to figure out what really went on, drove a lot of the decisions we made in the investigation process.
“I think the worst possible outcome from this institution would’ve been if we had conducted an investigation and we came back and said, 'You know, we just couldn’t figure out what was going on.' People had a right to know what happened, and we did achieve that goal.”
No players were disciplined as part of the process, and Manfred stood behind that decision despite some recent criticism from players around the league that Astros players got off too easy.
“I’m more than prepared to tolerate and listen to the debate and criticism about whether or not the punishments that have been levied in this case were sufficient,” Manfred said. “The one thing that I do take an issue with is the notion that anyone in the Houston organization escaped without punishment. I think if you look at the faces of the Houston players as they went out there publicly addressing this issue, they have been hurt by this. They will live with questions about what went on in 2017 and 2018 for the rest of their lives. And frankly it’s rare that for any offense, to have a punishment that you have to live with for the rest of your life.”
Manfred said MLB officials spent considerable time considering whether to strip the Astros of their championship.
“We thought about it,” he said. “It was high in terms of the minutes that we spent talking about it. My thinking involves several points. First of all, it had never happened in baseball. And I’m a precedent guy. I’m not saying you always follow precedent, but I think you ought to start by looking back at the way things have been done and you have to have a really good reason to depart from that precedent.
“I believed that the most fundamental obligation was to get the facts, put them out there, and let people make their own judgment as to what happened in the 2017 season and the 2017 World Series. If nothing else, I think we can all agree that we’ve gotten enough facts out there, and plenty of people have made their judgments as to what went on.”
So while MLB did not take the trophy back, the investigation has cast the championship team in a different light.
“Once you have a situation in which the 2017 World Series will always be looked at as something different, whether or not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back, I just don’t think it makes that much difference," Manfred said. "I think we did what we should do: We found the facts and we were transparent about them. Once you go down that road of changing what happens on the field, I just don’t know how you decide where you stop.”
Manfred touched on a series of related topics, including:
Whether the Astros punishment had been serious enough to deter others: “Yeah, I do. I think perspective, right? You had four really respected baseball people -- [Astros president of baseball operations] Jeff Luhnow, [Astros manager] AJ Hinch, [Red Sox manager] Alex Cora and [Mets manager] Carlos Beltrán -- that lost their jobs over this. I think losing your job in a sport like baseball -- where there’s really no substitute -- is a pretty serious deterrent. On the player’s side, I don’t think there’s a player in Major League Baseball who relishes the idea of being a 2017 Houston Astro and is out there answering questions about what exactly happened and why it happened.”
On players threatening retaliation against the Astros: “I think the back-and-forth that’s gone on is not healthy. This is another topic on which we’re trying to be proactive. I met with half the managers here in Florida before I came out here, and I’ll meet the other half in Arizona. I hope that I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated -- whether it’s at Houston or anybody else. I think it’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.”
On allegations the Astros wore buzzers as part of the sign-stealing: “The players were candid about 2017 and the fact that they violated the rules in 2017. They were candid and consistent about the fact that the rules were violated in 2018. They were equally consistent in the denials, everybody, every single witness, in the denials about this buzzer allegation. I think in my own mind, it was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful, admit they did the wrong thing in ’17, admit they did the wrong thing in ’18 and then lie about what was going in '19. Now, can I tell you that I’m 100 percent sure about that? You’re never 100 percent sure in any of these things, but that was my best judgment.”
On whether there will be any rule changes made to prevent this from happening again: “I do expect that for 2020, we will have really serious restrictions on players’ and playing personnel’s access to video in-game. I think it’s really important for us to send a message to our fans that not only did we investigate and punish, but that we altered our policies in a way that will help make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”