Team violated MLB rules in 2015-16

Major League Baseball fined the New York Yankees $100,000 in 2017 for using their replay room and dugout phone to steal their opponent’s signs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons in what commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “material violation” of rules governing the replay room.

The ruling was in a letter that Manfred sent to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman on Sept. 14, 2017.

The letter has been the subject of legal action as the Yankees tried to block its release. The letter’s revelation — a copy of which was obtained by the Chronicle and SportsNet New York — came after the 2nd US Court of Appeals last week denied to hear an appeal from the Yankees to keep it sealed. The letter was obtained during the discovery phase of a $5 million class-action lawsuit brought by DraftKings players against Major League Baseball, the Astros and Boston Red Sox in the wake of the sign-stealing revelations in early 2020.

The two-page document provided few specifics and rehashed much of what Manfred already acknowledged in a Sept. 15, 2017 statement, one in which he disciplined the Red Sox for using their replay room to decode signs and warned “future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

ALSO SEE: What we know about Manfred’s letter to Yankees

The Astros continued to use their electronic sign-stealing scheme and trashcan banging at Minute Maid Park despite the warnings. Owner Jim Crane fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow after the system became public in Jan. 2020. The league also fined the franchise $5 million and took away its first and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Manfred’s letter to Cashman helped to reinforce two long-held beliefs: electronic sign-stealing predated the Astros’ infamous trashcan banging scheme and ran rampant throughout the sport before stricter enforcement arrived in Sept. 2017. Multiple players across baseball have acknowledged it since the Astros’ punishments were levied and they became pariahs. No other publicly known sign-stealing schemes — including the one detailed in Manfred’s letter to Cashman — approach the severity of Houston’s trashcan banging scheme.

“If the Astros were the only team doing it, then yeah, give (the 2017 World Series championship) back — take it back. I know for a fact they weren’t,” Red Sox ace Chris Sale said earlier this month. “ All these people pointing fingers: Well, hey, take a check in the mirror real quick. Make sure that you and your team weren’t doing something.”

ALSO SEE: How Astros’ penalties compared to Red Sox’s, Yankees’

Sale joined the Red Sox in 2017, the same season the Yankees allegedly Boston had violated the league’s electronic sign-stealing rules by illegally using an Apple Watch. In a letter dated Sept. 14, 2017, Manfred wrote to Cashman that, within the course of the league’s investigation into the Red Sox, an unnamed Boston player told investigators the Yankees used a similar scheme to decode signs.

According to the letter, a Yankees baseball operations assistant admitted to league investigators that he provided information about opponent’s signs to members of the team’s replay room during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

The staffer’s name is written in the letter. The Boston player, who had played for the Yankees earlier in his career, is also not named.

The staff in the replay room “physically relayed the information” to the Yankees dugout, but the letter did not specify how it happened. The team also tried its tactics during road games, according to the letter. At ballparks where the dugout was farther from the replay room, the Yankees sometimes used a dugout phone line to “orally provide real-time information” about the opponent’s signs, the letter said.

Manfred wrote that the Yankees’ wrongdoing “constitutes a material violation of the replay review regulations” and had “the same objective of the Red Sox’s scheme that was the subject of the Yankees complaint.”

In his public statement on Sept. 15, 2017Manfred acknowledged that the Yankees “had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone” during a season prior to 2017.

“The substance of the communications that took place on the dugout phone was not a violation of any rule or regulation in and of itself,” Manfred said in that announcement. “Rather, the violation occurred because the dugout phone technically cannot be used for such a communication.”

Both the 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox were cited for sign-stealing schemes that originated in the team’s replay room. The Astros ran a far more egregious operation: positioning a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park, pointing it at the catcher and banging trash cans to relay the signs he flashed to Houston hitters.

Manfred’s letter to Cashman mentioned nothing about cameras. It also does not accuse the Yankees of illicit activity after Sept. 15, 2017 — the day Manfred promised harsher punishment for sign-stealing.

The 2018 Red Sox scheme was “far more limited in scope and impact” than the Astros’ 2017 actions, according to the league’s findings. Alex Cora, Boston’s manager that season, incurred a one-year suspension for only his actions as the Astros’ bench coach in 2017.

Cora returned to manage the Red Sox in 2021. He, along with veteran outfielder Carlos Beltrán, were painted as ringleaders of the Astros’ scheme in 2017. Beltrán played for the Yankees in 2015 and 2016.

Following the 2018 season, in response to concerns permeating the game, Major League Baseball implemented a stricter sign-stealing policy and protocols at all of its ballparks. The league put video room monitors to patrol areas around the clubhouse, replay room and dugout in search of any nefarious activity.

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