Astros Sign Stealing Started With Front Office: Report

A Wall Street Journal report tells how the sign stealing scheme was conceptualized

Brandon Scott
February 07, 2020 - 10:00 pm

After Jeff Luhnow was fired as Astros general manager as part of the team's sign stealing fallout, he was adamant about not being a cheater. 

Luhnow said in a written statement anybody who worked closely with him during his 32-year career inside and outside baseball could attest to his integrity. 

Don't count some of his former staffers for the Astros on that list, according to a damning report by the Wall Street Journal illustrating how the sign stealing scheme was conceptualized.

Here's the lead for the WSJ: 

On Sept. 22, 2016, an intern in the Houston Astros organization showed general manager Jeff Luhnow a PowerPoint presentation that featured the latest creation by the team’s high-tech front office: an Excel-based application programmed with an algorithm that could decode the opposing catchers’ signs. It was called “Codebreaker.”

This was the beginning of what has turned into one of the biggest scandals in Major League Baseball history. Throughout the 2017 season and for part of 2018, Astros baseball operations employees and video room staffers used Codebreaker to illegally steal signs, which were then relayed to batters in real time. Another Astros employee referred to the system as the “dark arts.”

This previously undisclosed information about the origins and nature of the Astros’ cheating comes from both a letter MLB commissioner Rob Manfred sent to Luhnow on Jan. 2 that outlined the findings of a league investigation, as well as interviews with several people familiar with the matter.

So despite commissioner Rob Manfred's assertion this was player-led, player driven misconduct, the WSJ's reporting indicates Jeff Luhnow was aware of, and possibly encouraged it. 

There is a "he said-he said" back-and-worth between Luhnow and Tom Koch-Weser, who remains the team's director of advance information. 

Koch-Weser, according to the WSJ, sent emails to Luhnow in 2017 referencing "the system" and "our dark arts, sign-stealing department," but Luhnow told investigators he did not read to the bottom of them. 

The intern, who WSJ identified as Derek Vigoa, is now the senior manager for team operations. He told MLB investigators he presumed Luhnow was aware Codebreaker would be used in games because that was "where the value would be," according to the commissioner's letter to Luhnow reviewed by the WSJ.

Codebreaker started with someone watching an in-game live feed, logging the catcher's signs and the actual type of pitch thrown into a spreadsheet and allowing the system to determine how the signs corresponded to the pitches.

The information from decoding would then be communicated to a baserunner, who would relay them to the hitter.

Players took this to another level some time around June 2017 by implementing the trash can banging to communicate pitches to batters. 

While it appears Jeff Luhnow was aware of something nefarious happening, there are other front office staffers who participated in this and they're still employed by the Astros, like Koch-Weser and Vigoa. 

Those are just the ones named in this report. 

How it is that A.J. Hinch loses his job, but behind-the-scenes operations employees more intricately involved in this are still around, makes no sense. 

Rob Manfred and Jim Crane need to answer for this.

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