Houston Astros Sign Stealing Scandal: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Explains Why Players Weren't Punished

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has defended his decision not to punish any of the players involved in the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal.

The MLB came down heavily on the franchise last month, but Manfred insisted disclosing the truth was more important than handing out individual punishments to players.

A report published in November by The Athletic revealed the Astros had illegally used technology to decipher their opponents' signs during the 2017 season—when the team won the World Series—and during the part of the following campaign.

The signs were then relayed to Houston batters in real time by banging on a garbage can.

In a nine-page report published last month, Manfred indicated the scheme to steal signs was "player-driven." However, Astros players escaped punishment, while general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended for the 2020 season.

The pair was subsequently fired by team owner Jim Crane, while the Astors were also fined a record $5 million and lost their first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 draft.

In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN, Manfred admitted he understood the calls for players to be banned.

"I understand people's desire to have the players pay a price for what went on here," he said. "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. We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it."

Alex Cora, who was the Astros bench coach during the 2017 season, was also implicated in the scheme.

The Puerto Rican parted ways with the Boston Red Sox last month after the organization was accused of stealing signs during its 2018 World Series-winning campaign.

Despite widespread criticism from other teams, the MLB has steadfastly insisted the Astros were in no danger of being stripped of their 2017 World Series win.

Manfred explained the possibility of revoking the title had been considered, but the league was mindful of creating a potentially game-changing precedent.

"It [Stripping a team of a title] has never happened in baseball," he explained.

"I am a believer in the idea that precedent happens and when you deviate from that, you have to have a very good reason. The report gave people a transparent account of what went on. We put people in position to make their own judgments about the behavior that went on."

The commissioner added that the MLB did not have to strip the Astros of their 2017 title as the report by The Athletic and the subsequent investigation had already tarnished Houston's achievements.

Manfred explained that even without the MLB formally stripping the franchise of its title, the outcome of the 2017 season has already been permanently changed in the eyes of baseball fans and of the teams who faced the Astros.

"The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act," he added.

"People will always know that something was different about the 2017 season."

Houston Astros
A detail of a ball bag and baseballs during a Houston Astros workout at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches on February 13 in West Palm Beach, Florida. Michael Reaves/Getty