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One Unsealed Letter Away from Hell? Were the Yankees Involved In Sign Stealing Too?

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Thanks to a judge from New York, the public may soon receive final confirmation into the Yankees’ 2017 investigation.

2020 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Right off the bat, let’s make one point absolutely crystal clear about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal: Any other teams that are suspected or found to participate in illegal sign-stealing in the future doesn’t make Houston’s malfeasance any less egregious or justifies the team’s actions. Not in the slightest.

That said, how about those Yankees?

The sealed letter in question was sent to the Yankees from commissioner Rob Manfred as it relates to the findings of the 2017 investigation. New York was ultimately fined for the illegal use of a dugout phone. But the plaintiffs (DraftKings players) complaint argue “the investigation had in fact found that the Yankees engaged in a more serious, sign-stealing scheme.” On the other hand, New York’s representation counters that “it is the Yankees’ understanding that the press release about the investigation reflects the Commissioner’s final determinations.” Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed the case in April, but the plaintiffs appealed the ruling to the 2nd US District Court of Appeals. Evan Drellich’s article at The Athletic (paywall warning) has all the finer details of the legal proceedings. In fact, the Yankees and Major League Baseball have now filed an appeal about unsealing the letter.

That sealed letter about the Yankees could be something. Or it could be a bunch of nothing. But for an organization to use language such as “significant reputational injury,” it does certainly raise some eyebrows. But to use the kind of verbiage allows doubt to creep into the public’s mind about the contents of the letter. Although a club official argues that the letter doesn’t contain a “smoking gun,” it’s difficult to not the let mind wander into the uncharted. Hey, it’s 2020.

I want to be particularly mindful of what I state next, though. For instance, per Andy Martino of SNY, “MLB’s Department of Investigations found no evidence that New York cheated in 2017, according to people with direct knowledge of the investigation.” Outside of the dugout phone violation in 2017, there is little besides anecdotes and online rumors involving the Yankees and any illegal sign-stealing involving electronic devices. Video clips are already circulating on Twitter of instances where some whistling was heard in Yankees’ at-bats, although it is impossible to determine the source. Of course, there is also Carlos Beltran, who played for New York from 2014 to 2016, reportedly stating at one point in 2017 that the Astros’ methods were “behind the times.” But if there is smoke, well, there might be fire.

It is questionable at this time whether anything significant materializes from the latest development involving the Yankees. If the letter remains sealed, then there is little beyond unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories. Even if the letter is released to the public, it remains to be seen whether anything damning is in it. But in the event that the letter is unsealed and something of importance is discovered as it pertains to illegal sign-stealing, commissioner Rob Manfred will have a loads of explaining to do. So much for transparency, right? The same thought goes for the Yankees who were quick to criticize the Astros for their illegal sign-stealing. It does appear rather hypocritical of players to blame one team for cheating if you also did so, even if your competitor’s method was ultimately more egregious than the other.

In the court of public opinion, the commissioner of baseball has found himself in a free fall. For one, he is generally viewed as botching the investigation and punishment of both the Astros and Red Sox for illegal sign-stealing. Manfred’s initial claim last November of “I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time” continues to sound worse with time. No, it was always a league-wide problem and you only did something about it once former Astro Mike Fiers went to The Athletic to spill the beans. It is becoming increasingly evident that illegal sign-stealing through electronic means has only evolved in recent years around the league. Houston may have been the best about stealing signs through electronic methods, but it is difficult to rationalize this issue as only a one-team problem.

Throw in a deadly pandemic and controversial labor negotiations between the owners and players, the commissioner has become increasingly unpopular. And if the Yankees’ situation boils over into illegal sign-stealing, hypocrisy will undoubtedly become the new buzz word in baseball. The cries for Manfred to be removed as commissioner will only grow louder. I can’t say I feel sorry for the man if that does occur.