(Reuters) – Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Rob Manfred defended the decision not to punish individual Houston Astros players over a 2017 sign-stealing scandal on Sunday, saying it was clear they had already “paid a price”.
MLB last month suspended Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch for the 2020 season while stripping the organization of four draft picks and levying a $5 million fine.
The Astros later fired Luhnow and Hinch, and owner Jim Crane has offered an apology for the scandal.
Manfred, in an interview with ESPN, said: “I understand people’s desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here.
“I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price.
“Having said that, the desire to have actual discipline imposed on them, I understand it and in a perfect world it would have happened.”
The sign-stealing scheme evolved during the 2017 season, MLB has said.
At the outset, it involved employees in the Astros’ video replay review room using a live game feed from the centerfield camera to attempt to decode and transmit opposing teams’ pitch sign sequences.
At one point, then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora arranged to install a monitor displaying the centerfield camera shots near the Houston dugout so players could watch, figure out the signs and hit a trash can with a bat to signal to their batter what type of pitch was coming.
The decision not to strip the Astros of their 2017 World Series title has also drawn widespread criticism.
“The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act,” Manfred said.
He added that any disciplinary measures handed out to the players would likely have prompted grievances from the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Manfred said that while the scandal would never be forgotten the Astros can move on from it if the organization as a whole — from the ownership through to the players — accept responsibility and apologize.
“Not only to their fans, but to the fans across the other 29 teams,” he said. “It’s hard to deny the fact that is going to be an ongoing process here.”
He said the apology the Astros had given “was not successful”.
As for the future, Manfred said baseball would restrict access to video during games.
“No question we’ll have a new policy before the 2020 season,” he said. “We’re going to have to live with less access to live video in and around the dugout and clubhouse.”
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by Peter Rutherford)