Manfred Did Not Need To Give Astros Players Immunity
In Mickey Callaway fashion, Rob Manfred had to go back out and speak again about Major League Baseball’s handling of the Astros sign stealing scandal. That was necessary because of how poorly the first interview went. To highlight just how bad it went, he referred to the Commissioner’s Trophy awarded to the team who wins the World Series as just a piece of metal.
While that was a big misstep, the biggest complaint remains the Astros players themselves, aside from Carlos Beltran, have faced no repercussions for their actions. On that point, Manfred reiterated the need for immunity saying, “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.”
That agreement was between MLB and the MLBPA wherein it was promised if players were upfront about the scandal they would not face fines or suspensions.
When you actually look at it, Manfred did not need to give the players immunity at all. In fact, it was completely unnecessary to conduct the investigation, and by granting the immunity, he really just created a whole host of other problems.
Starting at the beginning, Manfred acknowledged there were complaints from other organizations. While he knew there were other teams, the one which came to mind was the Oakland Athletics. So there were allegations present which could have led to his office conducting an investigation of the Astros front office.
Keep in mind, MLB did not need to offer the Red Sox players immunity to determine the team was illegally using an Apple watch, and they did not need to grant Yankees players immunity to determine they were improperly using the dugout phone.
In order to prepare the report, MLB interviewed 45 individuals who were not Astros players, and they “reviewed tens of thousands of emails, Slack communications, text messages, video clips, and photographs.”
Within that information, MLB would have been able to ascertain information like the setting up of the center field camera, the texting of the sign data to Alex Cora in the dugout, and all the ways the front office used to steal the signs electronically and relay those signs in some way to the dugout.
While not included in the report, the Wall Street Journal noted MLB found evidence of the front office’s full extent of the involvement in the scandal. That included PowerPoint presentations and other data. While this gives what the Astros front office knew and did, including but not limited to the emails identifying players like Beltran, you could still argue there was further cooperation needed to find out what the players did.
Again, that did not require immunity of the entire Astros roster.
Remember, this began when Mike Fiers went public with the allegations. In the article from The Athletic, Fiers came forward with how the Astros players were banging trash cans to relay the signals. Right there, MLB had the information they needed, and they had a key witness who wanted to share the information.
MLB also had the opportunity to speak with AJ Hinch as well as other members of that coaching staff. There were players from 29 other teams they could have asked to come forward to share information they knew. Certainly, seeing comments from players like Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Aaron Judge, Seth Lugo, Michael Conforto, and Mike Trout, it seems players were chomping at the bit to get back at the Astros for cheating.
Overall, MLB could have discovered all they did without giving one Astros player immunity. The main reason is Fiers already came forward, and MLB had the ability to put the squeeze on the Astros coaching staff, which they did with Hinch.
In fact, given the implication that this was a player driven system, it would have been more effective to give Hinch and others immunity to divulge everything they knew. You could say the same for Cora, who was implicated in two scandals.
When you break it down, MLB did not need to give the Astros players immunity to undertake this investigation. Not in the least. It’s a red herring.
As an aside, unlike the Mitchell Report, it created more problems. In fact, with Beltran being the only one named, it created more drama and speculation. Right now, instead of feeling like the matter is completely handled there is rampant speculation about buzzers, Jose Altuve‘s tattoos, and other nonsense.
The real reason Manfred gave the players immunity is he didn’t have the stomach for a fight. Certainly, there was going to be one as the MLBPA said in a published statement, “the applicable rules did not allow for player discipline, because even if they did players were never notified of the rules to begin with, and because cases involving electronic sign stealing MLB had stated that Club personnel were responsible for ensuring compliance with the rules.”
In the end, the players weren’t granted immunity for investigative purposes. Instead, it was to avoid a fight. There are good reasons for that. By not having the drag out fight over the suspensions, you are shortening the cycle of the story. Additionally, with the CBA expiring next year, Manfred is effectively keeping some peace with the MLBPA while also fracturing the union a bit.
Of course, there are other unknown reasons to grant the players immunity. No matter what those reasons, MLB didn’t need to grant the immunity to players to conduct an investigation. Not in the least. Knowing that, there needs to be a further inquiry into what the real reason was as to why the players were granted immunity.