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HOUSTON — While Major League Baseball issued a statement on Wednesday declaring “the matter closed” with regard to its investigation into an unauthorized individual with ties to the Astros who took pictures of the Red Sox dugout from the first base photo pit at Fenway Park, the feelings on the matter seem far from settled. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski expressed annoyance with MLB’s resolution and more particularly with the Astros’ reaction to it.
MLB concluded that the individual wasn’t stealing signs from the Red Sox, and that he was monitoring the Red Sox before his removal by Fenway Park security in the third inning of Saturday’s Game 1 of the ALCS to ensure that Boston wasn’t using technology to gain a competitive advantage. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said that Houston scrutinizes other teams in their home parks as a standard operating procedure.
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“We were playing defense; we were not playing offense. We wanted to assure a level playing field,” Luhnow said. “When we go into an opposing ballpark, we tend to look around and make sure that we don’t see any suspicious activity.
“We’ve been doing that as a matter of course for a while. Every once in a while . . . we reported it to MLB and we looked into it ourselves on certain cases and certain instances. We feel like it’s a value-added thing for us to do. That being said, MLB would prefer that we don’t look into it ourselves, that if we see something suspicious we relay it to them. And we’re going to abide by that going forward.”
Luhnow said the Astros had no specific concern about the Red Sox or Fenway Park.
“Everything was fine as far as we could tell,” he said. “[There was] no particular concern at Fenway Park. It’s the ALCS, so these games matter a lot.”
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Even with that disclaimer by Luhnow, Dombrowski took issue with both the Astros’ implication that they had been unaware they were doing anything wrong prior to MLB’s investigation and with Luhnow’s claim that the Astros felt compelled to track the behavior of other teams.
As such, when asked if he was satisfied with the resolution of MLB’s investigation, Dombrowski expressed mixed feelings.
“Yes, I do not think that person in the camera well was stealing signs, so I understand that was resolved. No, in the sense that, first of all, there was a violation. A person was in a credential box that shouldn’t have been there. He wasn’t supposed to be there,” said Dombrowski. “Secondly, I don’t like the implication that the Boston Red Sox were doing anything illegal. And so, I don’t think that the issue is actually closed for Major League Baseball from what I’ve been advised from the Commissioner’s Office. So there’s a lot more steps that are attached to this. So yes, I think it’s partially closed, but I don’t think it’s all the way closed.”
Dombrowski, who noted that the Red Sox were fined by MLB in 2017 for the illegal use of a Fitbit in the dugout as part of a sign-stealing operation, said that even if the Astros were merely trying to play defense, they were engaging in behavior that already had been clearly defined as unacceptable.
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“That person was told in the other series against Cleveland that he should not be in there, and yet he went back in there . . . The person is not an employee of the Houston Astros. That person was not supposed to be a credentialed person in that box. I know that for a fact. It’s a bad thing to put it upon our lap for me,” said Dombrowski. “So to me, when they say they’re doing this to protect themselves, they’re also not listening to authorities from above. I again don’t like the implication that we’re doing anything wrong.
“[The Astros] can do whatever they would like. It’s not my job to run their organization. But I don’t like the implication that we were doing something wrong.”
According to an industry source, the investigation into the specific behavior of the individual at Fenway Park was indeed closed from a fact-finding standpoint. But the Commissioner’s Office still could punish the Astros for the inappropriate use of video equipment. Such a determination, however, likely wouldn’t come before the offseason.
While any punishment remains uncertain, there is no doubt that the subject of teams’ use of technology for inappropriate purposes — whether sign-stealing, swiping scouting reports, or other applications — will be a topic of conversation at the GM meetings and in the Commissioner’s Office this winter.
At this point, the topic is unavoidable. The explosion of available video feeds in the ballpark under current replay rules has fueled what numerous evaluators describe as a culture of paranoia about the practices of teams.
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That culture, in turn, has forced teams to engage in countermeasures, including ever more complicated — and deliberate — signals between pitchers and catchers as well as the coaches and the field, something that can impact both the pace and quality of play. At the same time, national conversations about whether teams are engaged in inappropriate behavior are distracting from conversations about the playoff competition for the second straight year.
“There’s some unintended consequences that come with the advancement of technology. And I certainly think it’s a league-wide conversation that needs to happen in time,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “I mean, it’s happening right now during a really important series and I just think it’s bigger than us.
“It’s bigger than any team. It’s bigger than any series. It needs to be corralled because of the state of the concern over it . . . When teams are curious about us or we’re curious about other teams, it’s largely a distraction away from the best part of the game, which is on the field with the players.”
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.