NEW YORK – The New York Yankees were fined $100,000 by baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred for using their dugout phone to relay information about opposing teams’ signs during the 2015 season and part of 2016.
The fine was disclosed in a Sept. 14, 2017, letter from Manfred to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman that is set to be unsealed in U.S. District Court in New York this week as part of a dismissed lawsuit by a fan. The letter's contents were first reported Tuesday by SNY and the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.
MLB has said the fine was for violating rules on the use of the dugout phone but made the distinction that the Yankees did not use electronics to steal signs, a greater violation that led in January 2020 to the Houston Astros getting fined $5 million and resulted in one-year suspensions for Astros manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who were both fired for the team's conduct during the 2017 season.
Manfred announced on Sept. 15, 2017, that he had fined the Yankees for violating a rule about the use of a dugout phone but did not publicly detail the violation and did not announce the fine amount. He announced the penalty at the same time he fined the Boston Red Sox for sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.
In the letter, Manfred said the Yankees filed a formal complaint with baseball’s department of investigations on Aug. 23, 2017, about the Red Sox using a smart watch to relay information to players.
During the probe, an individual — the name was redacted in the copy of the letter set to be unsealed — said, “the Yankees used a similar scheme to that of the Red Sox to decode opposing clubs’ signs and relay them to the batter when a runner was on second base,” according to Manfred’s letter.
An individual, whose name also was redacted, “who initially noticed that the Red Sox were using a smartwatch to pass information to their players -- admitted to the department of investigations that during the 2015 season and the first half of the 2016 season” that a redacted name “provided information about opposing club’s signs to players and members of the coaching staff in the replay room at Yankee Stadium, who then physically relayed the information to the Yankees’ dugout.”
A redacted name “also admitted that during that same time period, in certain stadiums on the road where the video room was not proximate to the dugout, used the phone line in the replay room to orally provide real-time information about opposing club’s signs to Yankee coaches on the bench.”
Manfred said the Red Sox submitted video of a Yankees game at the Los Angeles Angels on June 13, 2017, in which a Yankees bullpen coach used an unauthorized iPad to watch an Angels broadcast. Manfred wrote the broadcast was on a one-second delay and there was no evidence of sign stealing in that instance, but the use of the iPad was a violation.
“The New York Yankees were fined for improper use of the dugout phone because the replay review regulations prohibited the use of the replay phone to transmit any information other than whether to challenge a play,” MLB said in a statement Tuesday. “The Yankees did not violate MLB’s rules at the time governing sign stealing.
“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. Because rules regarding use of replay had evolved, many clubs moved their video equipment to close proximity to the field, giving personnel the potential ability to quickly relay signs to the field."
MLB further detailed to teams the rules on electronic equipment when it made its Sept. 15, 2017, announcement, then issued tougher rules the following March 27. The league said Tuesday the latter rules made clear “any clubhouse or video room equipment could not be used to decode signs and that future violations of electronic sign stealing would be subject to serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”
The letter was produced as part of a lawsuit by five men who participated in fantasy contests hosted by DraftKings from 2017-19 and who sued Major League Baseball in January 2020. U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed the suit in April 2020 but ordered the letter unsealed. The Yankees asked the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision but Rakoff was upheld by a three-judge panel in March, and the team’s request for all 13 circuit judges to rehear the case was denied last week.
“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 Sept. 15, 2017,” the Yankees said in a statement.
“The Yankees vigorously fought the production of this letter, not only for the legal principle involved, but to prevent the incorrect equating of events that occurred before the establishment of the commissioner’s sign-stealing rules with those that took place after. What should be made vibrantly clear is this: the fine noted in Major League Baseball’s letter was imposed before MLB’s new regulations and standards were issued. Since Major League Baseball clarified its regulations regarding the use of video room equipment on Sept. 15, 2017, the Yankees have had no infractions or violations.”
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