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Why Rob Manfred granted player immunity to the Houston Astros

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred looks on during the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Nationals Park on July 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — MLB commissioner Rob Manfred could have set major precedent going forward regarding rules and punishment for cheating with his ruling of the Houston Astros.

Instead, he said Tuesday at Cactus League media day, he wanted to avoid creating a ruling that could affect the history of the game, not just the future.

“(I was) very concerned about opening the door to altering results that took place on the field,” Manfred said. “There are a lot of things that have happened in the history of the game that arguably could be corrected and I just think it’s an impossible task for an institution to undertake.”

After the league ruled the Astros used technology to steal signs, which helped them win the 2017 World Series, manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Lunhow were both suspended for a year. The team was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed, and lost its top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Hinch and Lunhow were both fired by the Astros following the ruling. Alex Cora, the 2017 Astros bench coach and 2018-19 manager of the Boston Red Sox, was fired by Boston. And, newly-hired New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for Houston at that time, stepped down.

Owner Jim Crane received no direct punishment, though Manfred argued the organizational punishments of money and draft picks are consequences that harm him.

All players were granted immunity, which has sparked a harsh backlash throughout the league.

Manfred said requests with the MLB Players Union to interview athletes led to the granting of immunity.

“The MLBPA asked if we had a disciplinary intention. I think the response was that we could not rule that out,” he said.

“The union indicated to us that that would be a problem. We went back and suggested to them we would give them an initial list of people, players that we would grant immunity to, preserving our ability to discipline other players, and the union came back and said that players would cooperate only if there was blanket immunity.

“Because we were in a bit of a stalemate, we knew we needed player witnesses, we agreed to that.”

Manfred said immunity was necessary to learn the information needed about the scandal.

“Let me be clear: We would not have gotten where we got in terms of understanding the facts, learning the facts, disclosing the facts if we hadn’t reached that agreement,” Manfred said.

Crane avoided direct punishment because Manfred said there was “not a shred” of evidence that he was involved, and that instead, there was evidence he told employees to make sure the team was complying with rules after the Red Sox and New York Yankees were punished for using electronics to steal signs in 2017.

He refuted a claim he should have hired an outside group to avoid conflict of interest with Crane, as the owners are his bosses.

“There is no conflict of interest between my disciplinary role and my job security,” Manfred said.

Manfred’s aversion to setting harsh precedent on an unprecedented scandal will now lead to a discussion with the players union on handling similar cases in the future. Throughout the league, the reaction from players on different teams has been immediate and vitriolic.

He did not rule out granting immunity in the future, but said he’d “have to think long and hard about it” and that it’s important to “establish player accountability.”

For the Astros’ case specifically, Manfred hoped the league gave fans enough information to form their own opinions and judgments. Even if the players weren’t punished by the league.

“I felt and continue to feel that the best thing we can do for our fans is to give them the facts, put them in a position to make their own judgment as to what happened in 2017, what the significance of that particular World Series is,” Manfred said.


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