Lawyers for the Red Sox contend in a federal court document that the Sox should not be held liable for their alleged electronic sign-stealing en route to the 2018 World Series title in part because a judge dismissed a complaint against Bill Belichick and the Patriots for allegedly engaging in similar misconduct in the 2007 Spygate scandal.
The Sox lawyers also argued that a class-action suit by fantasy baseball gamblers against the Sox, Houston Astros, and Major League Baseball should be tossed because aggrieved pay-for-view customers lost their bid to seek refunds after boxer Mike Tyson violated the sport’s rules and was disqualified from a heavyweight title fight in 1997 for biting off a piece of his opponent’s ear.
“Courts faced with similar claims repeatedly have rejected the notion that sports teams, participants, and organizers have a duty publicly to disclose even material information that could affect the quality, intensity or fairness of athletic competition,’’ the Sox lawyers stated in a 27-page memorandum supporting their motion to dismiss the suit. They filed the document Feb. 21 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.
The lawsuit claims the Sox, Astros, and MLB defrauded DraftKings fantasy baseball customers through “manipulative and deceitful conduct’’ that involved the Astros allegedly electronically stealing signs in their 2017 championship season and the Sox purportedly engaging in similar deception en route to their title the following year.
Alex Cora, an alleged mastermind of Houston’s sign-stealing scandal as the team’s bench coach in 2017, is under investigation amid suspicions he led a similar scheme while he managed the Sox in 2018.
He and the Sox parted ways in January, after The Athletic reported the team’s alleged cheating.
To date, the sign-stealing scandal has also cost the jobs of Houston’s general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch; and New York Mets manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017. MLB also fined the Astros $5 million and ordered them to forfeit their first- and second-round draft picks the next two years. The results of MLB’s investigation into Cora and the Sox are expected to be disclosed next week.
In the Spygate case, Belichick was fined $500,000, the Patriots $250,000, and the team was docked a first-round draft pick after the NFL ruled the Patriots had improperly videotaped New York Jets defensive coaches signalling plays.
At issue in the baseball case is whether the Sox and Astros, through their business partnerships with DraftKings, deceived consumers and affected the results of fantasy baseball competitions with their alleged cheating.
One plaintiff, Kris Olson, a reporter for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, is suing the Sox under the state’s Consumer Protection Act for unspecified financial damages involving entry fees and lost prize money from games he wagered on after the start of the 2017 season.
“While luring fans to participate in these fantasy games, MLB member teams were engaging in secret corrupt and fraudulent conduct, in obvious violation of MLB official rules and other regulations,’’ the class-action complaint states. “This misconduct distorted players’ statistics, impacted the outcomes of MLB games, and changed the outcomes of fantasy baseball competitions.’’
Even if that were true, the Sox lawyers assert in their motion, prior legal cases indicate the team should not be liable. Just as lawsuits against Belichick, the Patriots, and Tyson failed, the lawyers state, so did a class-action case filed by pay-for-viewers and closed-circuit distributors who alleged they were defrauded when promoters of a 2015 title fight between boxers Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather claimed Pacquiao entered the bout in “great shape,’’ when in fact his shoulder was seriously injured, diminishing his talent and contributing to his defeat.
The document filed by the Sox lawyers quotes a judge in the Pacquiao case as cautioning against “the ill effects of allowing our uniquely American brand of over-litigiousness to infect the province of competitive sports.’’
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have yet to file responses to motions by the Sox, Astros, and MLB to dismiss the case.
Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.