Today was the day of reckoning for the Houston Astros, as MLB levied punishment on the 2017 World Series Champions for the sign stealing scheme that they implemented during that title-winning season. The sanctions are as follows:
- GM Jeff Luhnow suspended for one season, without pay
- Manager A.J. Hinch suspended for one season, without pay
- $5 million fine (The highest possible fine allowed under MLB rules)
- No first or second-round draft pick in 2020
- No first or second-round draft pick in 2021
There’s also very likely going to be another name associated with this team receiving significant punishment from MLB. Current Red Sox manager Alex Cora was on the Astros coaching staff while this was going on and was also implicated as a “mastermind” in the investigation. If you combine that with the 2018 Red Sox currently being investigated for a sign-stealing scandal of their own and Cora being the manager of the Red Sox at the time, then it’s clear that Alex Cora may end up getting the harshest punishment of all once the smoke finally clears.
Mike Petriello of MLB.com summed it up perfectly with his take on the internet’s reaction to the punishment:
Half of baseball twitter: dear god, this is unprecedented— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) January 13, 2020
The other half: god, this is nothing, they got off light
I ... guess that's splitting the difference?
The punishment is indeed a substantial one, as it ended up costing both Luhnow and Hinch their jobs and it’s difficult to envision any other teams being willing to take the massive PR hit by signing them after their suspensions are over. Additionally, losing four top-caliber draft picks isn’t going to hurt the Astros right now, but they should feel the effect of that at some point down the road.
However, the people who are disappointed in the discipline handed out were probably expecting something especially unprecedented — like a title vacation or even sanctions on the players. The players (especially Carlos Beltran, who was implicated) got off without any sort of punishment since this was more of a look at the organization than it was the players on the field.
Those players can also rest easy knowing that the term “Flags Fly Forever” still applies. It was always a bit of an unrealistic expectation to think that the Astros would lose their title over this — if the Cincinnati Reds didn’t have their 1919 World Series victory wiped from the record books due to the Chicago White Sox transforming into the Chicago Black Sox, then the Astros were never going to lose their title. There might be a huge asterisk next to it in your own personal record book, but I’m sure Houston won’t be losing any sleep over it.
Someone who may raise a stink about what happened to the Astros today is our exiled friend, John Coppolella. As a reminder and a comparison, here’s the punishment that both he and the Braves received:
- GM John Coppolella suspended for life
- 13 prospects immediately released as free agents
- Banned from signing any international prospect for more than $10,000 during 2019-20
- International signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period reduced by 50 percent.
- No third-round draft pick in 2018
Cumulatively, the Astros still caught more punishment than the Braves did. However, you can cynically (and correctly, in my opinion) claim that Luhnow and Hinch have basically traded their jobs for a World Series title, and that’s a trade that some people would figure to be worth it. Meanwhile, the Braves still haven’t won anything past a divisional title for a long time now, and Coppolella caught a lifetime ban for his troubles.
The main difference here is that while the Astros got punished for their wrongdoing, Coppolella was made into an example. While the Astros got caught red-handed in their cheating, they at least didn’t try to test MLB during their investigation. On the other hand, Coppolella lied to MLB about his involvement in the cheating — another figure from Atlanta sports history can tell you that lying to a commissioner about your wrongdoing is generally not a good idea.
So this basically comes down to levels of cooperation. The Astros didn’t try to hinder the investigation into their cheating in any major way, so they ended up getting a firm, but fair punishment at the end of the day. John Coppolella tried to find a way out by lying and changing his story, and that’s why he’s hanging out with Pete Rose, Marge Schott, the Black Sox, and other infamous baseball figures in the “Banned For Life” Club. The Astros (and the newly-unaffiliated John Luhnow and A.J. Hinch) got what they deserved for cheating and John Coppolella got what he deserved for cheating and lying about it.