MLB letter to New York Yankees detailed illicit use of technology prior to 2017 sign-stealing edict

A years-old letter sent by Major League Baseball to the New York Yankees and obtained by ESPN on Tuesday details illicit use of technology during the 2015 and ’16 seasons that was relatively benign within the context of the sign-stealing scandals that occurred around the game at the same time.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Second Court of Appeals denied the Yankees’ request to keep the letter — from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman — under seal.

The letter was first published by SNY on Tuesday.

Manfred’s letter contains information about technology violations that occurred before the commissioner issued a memo to all teams in September 2017, a mandate that was regarded as a benchmark in the evolving concern about sign-stealing within the sport. Manfred warned teams that he would hold the front offices and staffers accountable for violations, and that violators faced penalties that included the possible loss of draft picks.

In January 2020, the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox were penalized for using technology to steal signs late in the 2017 season and in 2018, after Manfred’s memo was issued.

The details contained in Manfred’s letter to the Yankees note violations that players and staffers say became commonplace in the sport after instant replay monitors were installed within proximity of the dugouts in 2014.

In the letter, Manfred informed the Yankees that MLB’s investigation found that the team’s players watched the monitors in 2015 and 2016 to discern pitch-sequence information that was then relayed to baserunners in the hope that they could communicate this to the batter. Additionally, sources told ESPN that the letter notes that former Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild called the replay room to ask about pitch identification, which is against the rules.

“At that time, use of the replay room to decode signs was not expressly prohibited by MLB rules as long as the information was not communicated electronically to the dugout,” MLB said in a statement Tuesday.

The letter to Cashman did not suggest any real-time conveyance of signs from the dugout to the hitters during their at-bats — the threshold established in the Astros’ case — or violations after Manfred’s memo in September 2017.

“As the facts of the letter again show, the Yankees were not penalized for sign stealing but were penalized for improper use of the telephone in the replay room,” the Yankees said in a statement Tuesday. “… At that point in time, sign stealing was utilized as a competitive tool by numerous teams throughout Major League Baseball and only became illegal after the Commissioner’s specific delineation of the rules on September 15, 2017.”

The Yankees were fined $100,000 by Major League Baseball, and the money was allocated for Hurricane Irma relief.

That the Yankees fought to keep the letter under court-ordered seal in recent years raised eyebrows and fed conspiracy theories about what’s in it — to the degree that some baseball officials have been befuddled by the team’s handling of the issue, believing it would have been better to simply release the letter and move on.

In their statement Tuesday, the Yankees said they fought the release of the letter “to prevent the incorrect equating of events that occurred” and that the $100,000 fine that was imposed on the team was “before MLB’s new regulations and standards were issued.”

In its investigation of the Astros, MLB determined that with the use of a television monitor, hitters were informed of the identity of the forthcoming pitch during their at-bats, in real time — extensive, systematic violations that would lead to the suspensions and dismissals of general manager Jeff Luhnow, manager A.J. Hinch and Astros bench coach/Red Sox manager Alex Cora, while former Astros player Carlos Beltran resigned from his new position as manager of the New York Mets.

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