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Commissioner talks discipline, retaliation, trophy

@castrovince
February 18, 2020

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As reaction to the Astros’ illegal sign stealing in 2017 and 2018 continues to pour in from Spring Training camps, Commissioner Rob Manfred met with the media at Cactus League media day Tuesday and fielded a variety of questions about Major League Baseball’s investigation of the matter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As reaction to the Astros’ illegal sign stealing in 2017 and 2018 continues to pour in from Spring Training camps, Commissioner Rob Manfred met with the media at Cactus League media day Tuesday and fielded a variety of questions about Major League Baseball’s investigation of the matter and the discipline doled out.

In his opening remarks, Manfred was apologetic for a comment he had made Sunday on ESPN in which he referred to the Commissioner’s Trophy as a “piece of metal.” But he was again firm, as he had been two days earlier at Grapefruit League media day, that stripping the Astros of the 2017 World Series title would not have been a proper course of action. He also touched on what the future might hold to prevent use of technology for illicit in-game purposes.

Here were some of the topics covered in Manfred’s press conference:

On the “piece of metal” remark:

“I had a long day on Sunday. I think I did 45 minutes on camera, and then I did the press conference. I have to say I made one mistake -- at least -- during that long day. That was, in an effort to make a rhetorical point, I referred to the World Series trophy in a disrespectful way. And I want to apologize for that. There’s no excuse for it. I made a mistake. I was trying to make a point, but I should have made it in a more effective way.”

On why the Astros were not stripped of the title:

“I felt, and continue to feel, that the best thing we can do for our fans is to give them the facts and put them in position to make their own judgment as to what happened in 2017, what the significance of that particular World Series is. I’m also very concerned about opening the door to altering results that took place on the field. There are a lot of things that have happened in the history of the game that arguably could be corrected. I think it’s an impossible task for an institution to undertake.”

On why Astros players were granted immunity as part of the investigation:

“Immediately after the [Athletic] article [with Mike Fiers’ allegations], we launched an investigation. Our early efforts were not particularly successful in terms of making progress with the investigation. My office then contacted the MLBPA to request player cooperation. We wanted players to submit to interviews. The MLBPA asked if we have disciplinary intention. Our response was that we could not rule that out. The union indicated that would be a problem. We went back and suggested to them an initial list of players we would grant immunity to, preserving our ability to discipline other players. And the union came back that players would cooperate only if there was blanket immunity. Because we were at a stalemate and knew we needed player witnesses, we agreed to that.

“Let me be clear. We would not have gotten where we got in terms of understanding the facts, learning the facts, disclosing the facts if we had not disclosed that agreement. So I’m not being critical of anyone. But the fact of the matter is the union wanted an immunity agreement to protect their members and that’s how we got there.”

On threats and criticism levied at Mike Fiers for exposing the Astros’ sign-stealing methods:

“We will take every possible step to protect Mike Fiers wherever he’s playing, whether it’s in Houston or somewhere else.

“I want to be really clear about this: Mike did the industry a service. I do believe that we will be a better institution when we emerge at the end of this episode. Without a Mike Fiers, we probably would have had a very difficult time cleaning this up. It would have taken longer. I think we would have done it eventually, but it would have taken longer. I have a real problem with anybody who suggests Mike did anything other than the right thing.”

On the Astros’ use of technology to relay signs during the 2017 postseason:

“The garbage can signaling went on in the postseason. There was conflicting evidence on that point. But in an investigation, you often have conflicting evidence, and it was my view that the more credible evidence was that they continued to use the scheme in the postseason.”

Manfred added that “statements from players” was the evidence in question.

On whether in-game access to technology might be restricted in 2020:

“We are having some conversations with the MLBPA about that. My own view is that we need to drastically restrict in-game access by playing personnel to video. It just has caused a lot of problems, and I think it really, across the board, restriction on that video will send a message to our fans that’s really important to our institution right now that we’re serious about cleaning this up.”

On whether players might face discipline for future violations of the rules regarding the use of technology to steal signs:

“The agreement I made, I intend to live up to, just like every other agreement I’ve made with the MLBPA for the last 30 years. Whether there’s going to be immunity in cases going forward given the player reaction to this issue, I would have to think long and hard about that. I do think on a go-forward basis, it’s important for us to establish player accountability on these issues.”

On potential on-field retaliation against the Astros during the 2020 season:

“I think the best we can do on this topic -- and I’ve had two meetings in the last 48 hours with field managers about this -- my concern here is that whenever somebody is throwing intentionally at a player, it creates the risk of serious, serious injury. I’ve asked the managers to work with their players to prevent that type of activity which can lead to serious injury. We’ll be working closely with the umpires. We know there are going to be difficult situations. But I can’t tell you that I have a magic bullet to prevent those issues. All we can do is get in front of the issue, we’re really cognizant of it, and we’re already taking steps to try to minimize those sorts of problems.”

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.