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Astros' GM, Team Manager Dismissed Over Sign-Stealing Scandal


A.J. Hinch, the former manager of the Houston Astros, says he's sorry he didn't stop his team from breaking the rules. The Astros used videos to steal signs from opposing catchers. It started in 2017, the year they won the World Series. Hinch and the team's general manager were fired yesterday. And NPR's Tom Goldman has the story.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane delivered a one-two punch yesterday. It knocked out - at least for now - two of baseball's most respected talents. Manfred announced a one-year ban for manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. Not long after that announcement, Houston owner Crane fired them.


JIM CRANE: Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it. And that's how we came to the conclusion.

GOLDMAN: An MLB investigation detailed how the Astros used video during home games to spy on opposing catchers' hand signs to the pitcher. The Astros would quickly decode the signs to figure out which pitch they were calling for, then the process became decidedly unsophisticated. Someone would bang on a trash can to alert the Houston batter at home plate what was coming - fastball, slider, change-up, whatever.

The website Jomboy Media narrated video of this illegal sign-stealing during a 2017 game. Listen carefully for the banging after the narrator says, there's the change-up.


JIMMY O'BRIEN: Next pitch, there's the change-up.


O'BRIEN: Bang, bang - takes it.

GOLDMAN: The investigation says the banging scheme stopped by 2018. And at some point during that season, the team quit using video replay because they didn't think it was effective anymore.

Jacob Pomrenke with the Society for American Baseball Research says stealing signs in a rudimentary fashion - say, with your eyes - that's not against the rules.

JACOB POMRENKE: There's always been a little bit of a gray area between what's considered gamesmanship and what's considered cheating.

GOLDMAN: The use of technology is a no-no, and it's why baseball took the allegations against the Astros seriously. Houston manager Hinch didn't seem to when asked about the allegations late last year during the playoffs.


A J HINCH: Man, I'm glad you asked that question, and I thought it would come up today. In reality, it's a joke.

GOLDMAN: Yesterday, Hinch was contrite. In a statement, he said while the evidence showed he didn't endorse or participate in the sign-stealing, he failed to stop it. He apologized to Houston fans and the Astros' owner, who was resolute as he announced the firings - except for one emotional moment.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is this your toughest day ever?

CRANE: This is a tough day. I've had a lot of tough days over the years. But yeah, this was a tough one.

GOLDMAN: Tough days may be ahead for Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora. He was a coach for the 2017 Astros and, according to the investigation, helped develop the sign-stealing system. No word yet on his potential punishment. Baseball continues an investigation into whether Cora's Red Sox were also illegally stealing signs in 2018.

Baseball won't discipline Houston Astros players even though many who were interviewed said they knew the sign-stealing was wrong. They also said if Hinch told them to stop, they would have immediately.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTARCTIC'S "INTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.