Since I posted the initial commentary on Major League Baseball’s tough punishment of the Houston Astros for their illegal sign-stealing (there are legal ways to steal signs too), there have been some interesting developments with ethical implications.
The full MLB report can be read or downloaded here.
- One promising development is the widespread discussions of organizational culture that have been taking place in the media. When Astros owner Jim Crane announced that he was firing GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, both suspended for a year by the Commissioner of Baseball, he made it clear that the team needed to reform its culture, which had metastasized from “play to win” into a “win by any means necessary.” There were signs of this in Houston long before the sign-stealing was known, when in 2018 the team traded for relief pitcher Robero Osuna while he was suspended for domestic abuse and facing trial—even though the Astros had previously announced a “no-tolerance” policy regarding players and domestic abuse. The team really needed a closer, you see.
The Astros culture, we now can see, was thoroughly compromised by ethics rot, and eliminating one or two managers won’t fix the problem immediately.
- A prime enabler of that rot was Jeff Luhnow, who traded for Osuna. After he was fired yesterday, he issued this apology:
If he had stopped with the first paragraph, Luhnow could have claimed to have made perhaps a Level 3 apology on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, “An apology motivated by a desire to accept accountability for an event or occurrence that one may not have caused, but was responsible for in some way.” The rest, however, put him in Level 9 territory, “Deceitful apologies, in which the wording of the apology is crafted to appear apologetic when it is not.”
Major League Baseball has made it crystal clear that team management is responsible and accountable for serious rules infractions and cheating on their clubs. If Luhnow didn’t know, he should have known. It was his job to know. Contrived ignorance has been the life’s blood of rotting cultures from Nazi Germany to Enron to Hollywood. Moreover, the Osuna episode was strong evidence that Luhlow is a cheater, since he showed he would break his own rules when he saw a benefit for his team.
Blaming others is also not an ethical component of an apology.
- Luhnow’s focus on the “ethics accounting” rationalization that there were more positives than negatives in his tenure is also telling. The organization under his management crashed and burned. This no time to talk about “positives.” No one wants to hear from the captain of the Titanic about all those safe voyages he made while the ship is going down.
Discussions in various forums suggest that most in baseball considered the statement tone deaf. Good. His poor apology skills were also mirrored by his subordinates.
- Astros manager A.J. Hinch‘s apology was much better:
“I appreciate Commissioner Manfred‘s unwavering commitment to upholding the best interests of baseball. I regret being connected to these events, am disappointed in our club‘s actions within this timeline, and I accept the Commissioner’s decision. As a leader and Major League Manager, it is my responsibility to lead players and staff with integrity that represents the game in the best possible way. While the evidence consistently showed I didn’t endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them and I am deeply sorry. I apologize to Mr. Crane for all negative reflections this may have had on him and the Astros organization. To the fans, thank you for your continued support through this challenging time – and for this team. I apologize to all of you for our mistakes but I’m confident we will learn from it – and I personally commit to work tirelessly to ensure I do.My time in Houston has provided some of the greatest moments in my career and those memories will always be near and dear to me and my family. I regret that my time with the Astros has ended, but will always be a supporter of the club, players, and staff I’ve had the privilege of working alongside. I wish them the best in the future of the game I love.”
Again, however, the apology is marred by his statement that he “didn’t endorse or participate in the sign-stealing practices, I failed to stop them.” Failing to stop them is endorsing and participating. The investigation showed that Hinch “attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme” by physically damaging the monitor used in the cheating scheme on two occasions. Despite this, Hinch admitted he did not take action to stop it, nor did he tell players or his bench coach, Alex Cora (the architect of the cheating plan) that he disapproved of it. Hinch knew about but did not stop the communication of sign information from the replay review room, although he told investigators that he disagreed with the practice and “voiced his concerns” on at least one occasion.
All he had to do to end the cheating was to tell his subordinates to stop.
- Why weren’t the players punished? The report says that “assessing discipline of players for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical,” though “virtually all of the Astros’ players had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme.” It was impossible to determine degrees of culpability. Many of the players interviewed admitted that they knew the scheme was wrong because it crossed the line from what the player believed was fair competition and/or violated MLB rules. Players slo stated that if Hinch told them to stop engaging in the conduct, they would have immediately stopped.
I agree that this was the right call by MLB, except…
- …the report reveals that Astros designated hitter, Carlos Beltran a veteran great in his final year as a player and respected as a team leader, was, along with bench coach Alex Cora, a main force in developing the cheating methods. The evidence regarding Beltran is strong; why wasn’t he punished? Worse, Beltran was just hired as manager of the New York Mets!
The Mets should fire him.
- As for Alex Cora, the consensus is that the current Red Sox manager will be punished more severely than Hinch, who was suspended for a year. That would be appropriate appropriate, since he engineered sign-stealing schemes that corrupted two teams. There is even speculation that he may be banned from baseball permanently.
Addendum: I am adding this to the original post. Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers is the whistleblower who revealed the Astros cheating conspiracy. He now pitches for the A’s, but was a member of the Astros in 2017. I heard ex-players grudgingly say yesterday that he did the right thing, but the consensus is that Fiers will be a pariah around the league, not just in Houston. “How can anyone trust him to keep a clubhouse confidence?” one commentator asks.
UPDATE: The Red Sox fired Alex Cora.
Here’s a link to the post that Facebook won’t reject as “violating community standards”: https://twitter.com/CaptCompliance/status/1217140612228579328