Astros fire manager, GM after suspensions for sign stealing

(Reuters) – The Houston Astros fired Manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday after Major League Baseball suspended them each for a year for a cheating scandal that involved stealing pitch signs from opposing catchers during their World Series-winning 2017 season.

FILE PHOTO: Dec 10, 2019; San Diego, CA, USA; Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch speaks to the media during the MLB Winter Meetings at Manchester Grand Hyatt. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sport/File Photo

The announcement of the firings was made by Astros owner Jim Crane about an hour after MLB announced the suspensions and sanctions against the team, which also included a $5 million fine and the loss of first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

Crane announced his decision to fire one of the game’s most highly regarded GM-manager combinations during opening remarks at a news conference inside the Astros’ Minute Maid Park in Houston, where he addressed the sign-stealing scandal.

“We need to move forward with a clean slate and the Astros will become a stronger organization because of this today,” said Crane. “You can be confident that we will always do the right thing and will not have this happen again on my watch.”

According to MLB, the sign-stealing scheme evolved during the 2017 season. At the outset it involved employees in the Astros’ video replay review room using a live game feed from the centerfield camera to attempt to decode and transmit opposing teams’ pitch sign sequences.

At one point, then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora arranged for a technician to install a monitor displaying the centerfield camera shots near the Houston dugout so players could watch, figure out the signs and hit a trash can with a bat to signal to their batter what type of pitch was coming, MLB said.

“The conduct described herein has caused fans, players, executives at other MLB clubs, and members of the media to raise questions about the integrity of games in which the Astros participated,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in his written decision.

“And while it is impossible to determine whether the conduct actually impacted the results on the field, the perception of some that it did causes significant harm to the game,” he added.

Manfred also said in his ruling that if either Hinch or Luhnow engage in any future material violations of MLB rules they will be placed on the permanently ineligible list.

Under Luhnow’s tenure, the Astros went from a team that lost more than 100 games each season from 2011-2103 to one of the game’s powerhouse clubs with more than 100 wins every year from 2017-2019, including a World Series title in 2017 and another trip to the World Series in 2019 in which they lost to the upstart Washington Nationals.

In five years as Astros manager, Hinch compiled a record of 481-329, a winning percentage just shy of .600

Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot

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