MLB, MLBPA discussing potential player discipline for sign stealing

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred

Major League Baseball could discipline players for future electronic sign-stealing violations in the wake of the ongoing league scandal involving the Houston Astros.

The punishments MLB levied upon the Astros last month for rules violations were only limited to the club as a whole, the manager, and executives, and did not extend to players who played an instrumental role in the misconduct. 

But MLB Players Association Tony Clark said the league is discussing potential future penalties as part of broader conversations now ongoing around possible future rules changes regarding the in-game use of technology.

“Written proposals have been exchanged, and we have made it clear to MLB that no issue is off the table, including player discipline,” Clark said.

The new player discipline talks, if resulting in a deal, would not be retroactive to incorporate the Astros’ prior conduct.

The league and union remain squarely at odds over the role of the union and individual players during a prior investigation that ultimately led to the prior Astros’ penalties. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking at Cactus League Spring Training camps in Arizona, said players were given blanket immunity from punishment in exchange for cooperating with the probe due to MLB’s initially unsuccessful investigatory efforts.

“Because we were at a bit of a stalemate, we knew we needed player witnesses [in the investigation], we agreed to that,” Manfred said.

Clark, however, said a statement he disagreed with that version of events, and contrary to Manfred’s assertion that MLB could not rule out player discipline, said MLB never had an intention to discipline players in this matter. Instead, Clark said MLB contacted the union on Nov. 13, the day after The Athletic published an article outlining the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme, and agreed to granting the player immunity the same day.

“Any suggestion that the association failed to cooperate with the commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue,” Clark said. “We acted to protect the rights of our members, as is our obligation under the law.”

The ongoing controversy around the Astros’ conduct, and what many around the game deemed unsatisfactory and insincere apologies last week from the club, continues to swirl around the sport as its dominant narrative as Spring Training games are set to begin later this week. 

Clark is scheduled to make his first extensive remarks to the media since the Astros’ penalties were levied on February 19 at the New York Mets’ Spring Training camp.

“This is a pivotal time for our game, and these are critically important issue,” Clark’s statement continues. “How the parties handle the next several weeks will significantly affect what our game looks like for the next several decades. The opportunity is now to forge a new path forward.”

A wide variety of popular MLB stars, including Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, meanwhile have openly criticized the Astros, said they didn’t earn their 2017 World Series title, or called for the club and its players to receive bigger punishments from MLB.

“It didn’t only affect us as the Yankees,” Judge said. “It affected the fans of the game. Other guys who lost their jobs because of it. Guys who went to Houston and got beat up and never made it back to the big leagues. You really can’t tolerate that. Guys who are going there and playing fair and square, and get beat up a little bit, now they’re out of a job because of it, that ain’t right.”

National Basketball Association superstar LeBron James also weighed in on the ongoing MLB scandal through his Twitter feed, imploring Manfred to take much more decisive action.

“Listen, I know I don’t play baseball, but I am in sports and I know if someone cheated me out of winning the title and I found about it I would be [expletive] irate,” James tweeted. “I mean like uncontrollable about what I would/could do! Listen here baseball commissioner. Listen to your players speaking today about how disgusted, mad, hurt, broken, etc., etc., about this. Literally the ball is in your court (or should I say field) and you need to fix this for the sake of sports!”

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, additionally opined on the matter, tweeting, “baseball is a mess right now and they have zero vision to see them out of it. I’m thankful they didn’t let me buy a team.” 

Cuban was referring to his unsuccessful effort a decade ago to buy the Texas Rangers. Cuban’s partner, ironically, in that Rangers bid? None other than current Astros owner Jim Crane, who now stands at the center of the scandal.