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Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Fired Astros GM Jeff Luhnow files $22 MILLION lawsuit against team for 'making him the scapegoat' over sign stealing scandal

 Fired Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has filed a $22 million lawsuit against the team, accusing them of making him a 'scapegoat' in their sign stealing scandal. 

Luhnow, 53, and Astros manager AJ Hinch were fired in January of this year. They had already been suspended by Major League Baseball for the team's illicit use of electronics during Houston's run to the 2017 World Series title and again in 2018. 

Now Luhnow claims Astros owner Jim Crane and Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred blamed him under a 'negotiated resolution in order to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary', The LA Times reports.  

In court papers filed in Harris County, Texas Monday he claims Crane and Manfred came to a deal 'that enabled the team to keep its World Series championship, went to great lengths to publicly exonerate Crane, and scapegoated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in'. 

It further claims Manfred 'let the ringleader keep his position in exchange for providing information that would implicate Luhnow.' 

The suit adds: 'Remarkably, the video room employees who conceived and orchestrated the sign-stealing system remained employed by the club throughout the 2020 season.

'After conducting interviews of 68 witnesses and reviewing 'tens of thousands' of emails, text messages, Slack communications, video clips, and photographs, his 'investigation' could produce only one untrustworthy source - the actual ringleader of the Astros' sign-stealing schemes who 'implicated' Luhnow to save his own job.' 

Fired Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, pictured in 2018, is suing the team for more than $1 million, accusing them of making him a 'scapegoat' in their sign stealing scandal

Fired Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, pictured in 2018, is suing the team for more than $1 million, accusing them of making him a 'scapegoat' in their sign stealing scandal

Luhnow, who remains out of baseball after eight seasons as Houston's GM, has maintained his innocence in the scandal. 

The suit goes on: 'The commissioner allowed the Astros to keep their 2017 World Series championship, imposed a $5 million fine (a fraction of the revenues Crane had reaped as part of the team’s recent success), and took away four draft picks. He also issued a blanket vindication of Crane, absolving him of any responsibility for failing to supervise his club.

'Moreover, Crane and the Astros were assured of fielding a contending team in 2020—the team advanced to the American League Championship Series for the fourth straight year—because the commissioner did not suspend or penalize any of the players who were directly involved in the scandal.' 

Luhnow said last month: 'It's pretty clear who was involved in the video-decoding scheme, when it started, how often it happened and basically when it ended. And it's also pretty clear who was not involved.

'And I don't know why that information, that evidence, wasn't discussed in the ruling, wasn't used. The people who were involved that didn't leave naturally to go to other teams are all still employed by the Astros.'

Luhnow claims Astros owner Jim Crane, pictured, and Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred blamed him under a 'negotiated resolution in order to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary', The LA Times reports
Robert D. Manfred

Luhnow claims Astros owner Jim Crane, left, and Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, right, blamed him under a 'negotiated resolution in order to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary', The LA Times reports

Manfred hit back at those comments, saying: 'Whether he exactly knew what was going on or not is really beside the point. After the Apple Watch incident (when the Red Sox used the devices to steal signs against the Yankees), I wrote to all the GMs. 

'I put them on notice that it was their obligation to make sure that their organizations were not violating any of the sign-stealing rules.'

Neither the MLB or the Astros have commented on the suit. 

Sign-stealing is a legal and time-honored part of baseball as long as it is done with the naked eye - say, by a baserunner standing on second. Using technology is prohibited.

Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, as punishment.

An investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher's signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter's odds of getting a hit. 

In this 2017 file image, Houston Astros celebrate beating the Dodgers to win the World Series at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California

In this 2017 file image, Houston Astros celebrate beating the Dodgers to win the World Series at Dodger Stadium on November 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California

Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, right, and A.J. Hinch pose after Hinch is introduced as the new manager of the baseball club in Houston in 2014

Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, right, and A.J. Hinch pose after Hinch is introduced as the new manager of the baseball club in Houston in 2014 


Astros players disputed whether knowing the pitches seconds in advance helped batters. 

Houston had fewer wins at home than on the road, winning 94 home games and 110 on the road during the two seasons. There was no sign-stealing system on the road.

MLB Commissioner Manfred, in his most significant action since becoming commissioner five years ago, said Hinch failed to stop the sign stealing and Luhnow was responsible for the players' conduct even though he made the dubious claim he was not aware. Manfred said owner Jim Crane was not informed.  

Luhnow said in an earlier statement that he accepts responsibility 'for rules violations that occurred on my watch as president of baseball operations and general manager of the Astros' and apologized to the team and fans for 'the shame and embarrassment this has caused.'

But he added: 'I am not a cheater.

'Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. I did not know rules were being broken. 

'As the commissioner set out in his statement, I did not personally direct, oversee or engage in any misconduct: 

'The sign-stealing initiative was not planned or directed by baseball management; the trash-can banging was driven and executed by players, and the video decoding of signs originated and was executed by lower-level employees working with the bench coach. 

'I am deeply upset that I wasn't informed of any misconduct because I would have stopped it.'     

The former GM said that he thought the sign-stealing was only being done after games to analyze the opposition for future games, which would be legal under baseball rules.    

Luhnow, 53, right, and Astros manager AJ Hinch, left, were fired in January of this year. They had already been suspended by Major League Baseball for the team's illicit use of electronics during Houston's run to the 2017 World Series title and again in 2018

Luhnow, 53, right, and Astros manager AJ Hinch, left, were fired in January of this year. They had already been suspended by Major League Baseball for the team's illicit use of electronics during Houston's run to the 2017 World Series title and again in 2018

Luhnow, 53, earned an MBA at Northwestern and fostered an analytic-based culture during eight seasons as Astros GM, but also a toxic one with high turnover.

MLB previously announced a crackdown on sign stealing in 2017, indicating that any teams using electronic devices to gain a competitive advantage would be subject to punishment: 'Electronic equipment, including game feeds in the Club replay room and/or video room, may never be used during a game for the purpose of stealing the opposing team's signs.'

A Major League Baseball investigation found that the Astros illegally stole signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Houston won the World Series in 2017.    

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