When Major League Baseball announced the sanctions against the Houston Astros for their electronic sign-stealing scheme there was an argument about whether or not the punishment was too light. That the conversation went to such a place was only natural and there were many conflicting opinions.
Some questioned not a single player receiving any punishment, the fine not being enough of a dollar amount, the lost draft picks not really hurting them, and that the suspensions of Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch not being long enough. We’re a few weeks removed from the fallout and there’s one person who has gone relatively unscathed, Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred.
Manfred was the person handing out the punishments and in that regard, he shouldn’t have faced any punishments himself. However, there is a larger issue at hand and that is the way that Manfred used the Astros sign-stealing scandal as a way to drive a wedge into the Major League Baseball Player’s Association. It is true that no single player was meted out any sort of punishment.
It’s been reported that they received immunity from punishment for their willingness to talk on the record about what did and did not happen during the time frame covered by the investigation. However, the prevailing opinion put forth by Manfred’s report was that the sign-stealing scheme was player-driven. Reading through all nine pages of the report one would come away with the idea that the Astros front office and management were swept up in a scheme they had no control over.
Thanks to the reporting of Jared Diamond at the Wall Street Journal we know that this scheme was not entirely player-driven. Luhnow and his minions knew all along what they were doing and they were, in fact, the architects of Operation Codebreaker. This isn’t exactly revelatory seeing as how most suspected that Luhnow was full of it in his statements that implied he was an unwilling accomplice.
Manfred also exonerated Astros owner Jim Crane in his report, while for comparison’s sake retired Astro Carlos Beltrán was made to seem like a criminal mastermind. When the dust had settled most of the front office members responsible for the scheme were still in place in the Astros organization, Crane was still the owner, Luhnow and Hinch were made to look like patsies of the players, while the Astros players were one curling iron away from being painted as mustachioed-twirling villains.
Not a single Astros player involved in the sign-stealing scheme is innocent. That much we should all agree on, just as we should all be able to agree that Crane, Luhnow, Hinch, and the rest of the front office and coaches are just as guilty, if not significantly more because of their positions of power, as the players. That should make one question why Manfred chose to use all nine pages of his report to drive home the point that the players were to blame for instituting and carrying out the scheme. Luhnow is only punished in Manfred’s report through the veneer of ignorance. He should have been better at his job and realized what the players were up to, Manfred intones.
Diamond’s reporting leaves no doubt that not only was the Astros front office knowingly involved in the sign-stealing scheme, but Manfred knew they were and omitted that from his report. Knowing this and knowing what we do about Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner leaves only one conclusion: Manfred saw this report as his chance to levy a rather large blow to the MLBPA. Manfred is preparing for a possible lockout and he knows that the players are currently in lockstep about a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In nine pages he was able to sow division within the union ranks and possibly put a halt to a potential lockout in the process.
To some, this may seem far-fetched but just look at the reactions of fellow players following the report. Tommy Pham, Mike Clevinger, Sean Doolittle, and many more came out strongly against the Astros players’ actions. The way other MLB players looked at the issue the Astros had acted in bad faith and had gotten away with their accomplishments intact and no punishments levied against them. By making the players out as the driving force behind the scheme and not punishing them Manfred created strife right at the heart of the union. Astros players reacted in an expected fashion by either refusing to talk about the scheme or painting an “us versus them” narrative to their relationship with the rest of MLB.
In one report, Manfred managed to successfully isolate an entire group of players and make them enemies of their own union. There’s a phrase for that when it comes to labor relations and negotiations, that phrase is union-busting. In a report that should have dealt a black mark against MLB as an organization Manfred instead took it as a golden opportunity to bust up the union that gives him so much trouble. If the ongoing remarks and actions of Astros players and the rest of the union are any indication Manfred may have succeeded in crippling the solidarity that the MLBPA fought for years to attain.