Nationals

Nationals

What’s next? Geraldo Rivera standing in front of a dusty vault?

Major League Baseball released its findings Wednesday following an investigation into the Boston Red Sox. They were alleged to have been cheating in 2018, and with a now-known cheater, Alex Cora, as their manager, the idea seemed more than plausible.

But, the findings of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred were more yawn-inducing than gasp worthy. He suspended Cora through the conclusion of the 2020 postseason for his actions in the Houston sign-stealing scandal of 2017, not what occurred on his watch in Boston in 2018. The suspension is irrelevant. He already lost his job. Manfred also took away a 2020 second-round pick from Boston.

The whole report centered on J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay operator, who was deemed to have acted on his own. He’s suspended for the 2020 regular season and postseason and prohibited from working in a replay room in 2021. So, he can return in 2022? To the replay room? Not much of a punishment there, either.

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No big names were dinged, none of this ran up the flagpole the way it did in Houston. Testimony from the players was much more muddled. Some said they didn’t get the signs from Watkins. Others said they didn’t know how he obtained them. And the report explained the whole process was “episodic” in the regular season only, as opposed to Houston’s step-by-step stealing then relaying signs in close to real time throughout play in 2017, including the postseason.

 

Two other points of differentiation also occurred: First, Manfred said Boston clearly distributed his warnings about sign stealing which came from a league-wide memo. Houston did not. Second, the clarity from corroborated player statements in Houston did not exist during interviews in Boston. From the report:

“Of the 44 players who provided information, more than 30 stated that they had no knowledge regarding whether Watkins used in-game video feeds to revise his advance sign decoding work. However, a smaller number of players said that on at least some occasions, they suspected or had indications that Watkins may have revised the sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game through his review of the game feed in the replay room.

"They largely based their belief on the fact that Watkins on occasion provided different sign sequence information during the game than he had offered prior to the game, and, based on the circumstances of the communication, they assumed that the revised information came from his review of in-game video. One player described that he observed Watkins write down sign sequence information during the game while he appeared to be watching the game feed in the replay room, circling the correct sign in the sequence after the pitch was thrown.”

Perhaps strangest among these outcomes is the idea Cora -- who was instrumental in Houston’s sign-stealing the year before -- had no idea it was occurring among his team.

“I do not find that then-Manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox coaching staff, the Red Sox front office, or most of the players on the 2018 Red Sox knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis,” read the commissioner's report.

So this, in the commissioner’s view, is more flicker than bonfire (and we should note Watkins denies all of this; though he was also a key figure in the Red Sox being disciplined for using an Apple Watch to decode signs in 2017). The boom expected following another investigation into one of the league’s key franchises did not materialize. Instead, most just rolled their eyes and unpaused Netflix.

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