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Hinch, GM fired for Astros sign stealing after MLB bans pair

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Houston,Jan 14 (Net) — The Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal cost manager AJ Hinch and general manag-er Jeff Luhnow their jobs, and Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora could be next.
Hinch and Luhnow were fired Monday after being suspended by Major League Baseball for the team's illicit use of electronics to steal signs during Houston's run to the 2017 World Series title and again in the 2018 sea-son.
In U.S. sports' largest scandal since the New England Patriots' "Spygate," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred announced the discipline and strongly hinted that Cora — the Astros bench coach in 2017 — will face equal or more severe punishment. Manfred said Cora developed the sign-stealing system used by the Astros. The Red Sox are under investigation for stealing signs in Cora's first season as manager in 2018, when Boston won the World Series.
Houston was fined $5 million, the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, as punishment. The Astros will also forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.
The 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.
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.
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.
"While it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the percep-tion of some that it did causes significant harm to the game," Manfred said.
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.
An hour after MLB announced its punishment, Crane opened a news conference by saying Hinch and Luhnow were fired.
"I have higher standards for the city and the franchise, and I'm going above and beyond MLB's penalty," he said. "We need to move forward with a clean slate."
Both Luhnow's and Hinch's suspensions for the 2020 season were to be without pay. Crane said he will look outside the organization and internally for candidates to replace Luhnow. If he hires internally, the most likely candidate would be Pete Putila, who was promoted to assistant general manager this offseason.
Crane, who said he learned of the discipline this weekend, was visibly upset during Monday's news conference and insisted that Houston's championship, which culminated in a seven-game World Series over the Los An-geles Dodgers, was not tainted.
"We want to be known as playing by the rules," he said. "We broke the rules. We accept the punishment and we're going to move forward ... if you read the report neither (Luhnow or Hinch) implemented this or pushed it through the system and (it) really came from the bottom up."
Hinch's penalty was among the longest for an MLB manager. Brooklyn's Leo Durocher was suspended for one year by Commissioner Happy Chandler in April 1947 for the "accumulation of unpleasant incidents" detrimen-tal to baseball, and Cincinnati's Pete Rose was banned for life by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti in August 1989 for betting on Reds' games while managing the team.
Houston was a big league-best 204-120 during the two years in question, winning its first title. Hinch, a 45-year-old former catcher with a degree from Stanford, was the most successful manager in the history of the Astros, who have won two of the last three AL pennants and came within one victory of another World Series title last year against Washington. 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.
Sign stealing has a long history in baseball — the New York Giants used a military field scope and buzzer dur-ing their 1951 tiebreaker playoff against the Brooklyn Dodgers. While decoding with the naked eye is allowed, MLB has enacted increasingly stringent prohibitions in recent years against the use of electronics to spy on op-ponents.
MLB's Department of Investigations interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Houston play-ers, and reviews tens of thousands of emails, Slack communications, text messages, video clips and photo-graphs.
Manfred said the banging system was not used in 2018 but that signs were stolen by the replay room and com-municated to the dugout in person during at least part of that season. There was no evidence signs were stolen during the 2018 playoffs.
The Mets and Beltrán declined to comment, spokesman Harold Kaufman said.
Manfred left it to the Astros whether to discipline lower-level employees found to be involved in the sign steal-ing.
"Lower-level employees were taking direction from senior, either players or coaches," Crane said. "And so in my opinion it can be difficult to hold them to the same standard we hold to the leaders. But we'll review that ... and deal with that shortly."
Also Monday, former Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman was suspended through the World Series for his conduct during last year's AL Championship Series, when his profane remarks directed at female reporters led to his firing by Houston, which at first denied the incident and later apologized.
Taubman can apply to Manfred for reinstatement after the World Series. Any future violations of Major League Rules by Hinch, Luhnow or Taubman would lead to a lifetime ban.