MLB Commissioner Defends Decisions On Astros' Sign-Stealing Scandal

Feb 17, 2020
Originally published on February 17, 2020 8:38 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, is defending his decisions in the Houston Astros' cheating scandal. Now, that's despite anger from fans and players about how he's handled things so far. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Standing behind a lectern at the Atlanta Braves' spring training stadium, Rob Manfred knew the sour was coming. But he still tried some sweet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT MANFRED: The long off-season is about to come to an end, and we're going to be playing baseball again soon.

GOLDMAN: Truth is, this year, a long off-season of scandal is nowhere near its end. The revelation that the 2017 and 2018 Astros illegally used technology to steal signs from opposing catchers flared up as spring training began. A widely panned team apology by the Astros led opposing players and fans to bubble over with anger. Rich Ruggiero (ph) from Connecticut was visiting Tampa to see his beloved New York Yankees.

RICH RUGGIERO: I mean, it's a truly appalling breach.

GOLDMAN: Yankees fan Jessica Cestare (ph) believes the 2017 Astros, including star Jose Altuve, cheated their way to the World Series title.

JESSICA CESTARE: They don't deserve it. And Altuve deserves to get his MVP trophy taken away, too.

GOLDMAN: Last month, Manfred announced no sanctions against Houston players and no taking away the 2017 championship trophy. Despite the recent anger, there was no reconsideration of either. Manfred said there's no precedent for revoking a baseball title.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANFRED: Whether or not you put an asterisk or ask for the trophy back, I don't think it makes that much difference.

GOLDMAN: That will be debated, as will his decision to stick with no punishment for Houston players. Manfred acknowledged they did not do the right thing. He explained, in order to get meaningful information for his investigation, he had to grant immunity to players as long as they told the truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANFRED: If I was in a world where I could have found all the facts without granting immunity, I would have done that.

GOLDMAN: Meaning punish. Manfred talked about steps he will take. He expects serious restrictions this season on teams' access to video during games. But he didn't exactly put to rest suspicions that last year's Astros cheated by using illegal electronic buzzers. He said players with immunity denied the buzzer rumors. And for Manfred, it didn't fit that they'd be truthful about the scheme in 2017 and '18, and lie about 2019.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MANFRED: Can I tell you I'm a hundred percent sure about that? You're never a hundred percent sure in any of these things, but that was my best judgment.

GOLDMAN: And so the commissioner's judgments stand for now. For those still miffed that he didn't come down harder on the Astros, there could be plenty of punishment this season - lots of booing on the road; some opposing pitchers have even talked about throwing at Houston batters as an act of revenge. New Houston general manager James Click was asked yesterday about what he can do to help his players.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES CLICK: Body armor - no, sorry. I shouldn't joke. The first thing they tell you is don't joke.

GOLDMAN: Maybe baseball needs some levity. After all, no one died - although the game's credibility has been wounded. And it's going to take a lot more than a sugary commissioner welcoming a new season to heal those wounds.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Tampa.

(SOUNDBITE OF WYCLEF JEAN'S "CHEATED (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.