Major League Baseball on Wednesday stripped the Boston Red Sox of a draft pick for using cameras to steal signs — but declared that the team's cheating "was far more limited in scope and impact" than the 2017 Houston Astros.
The Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2018, were docked a second-round draft pick over actions by J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, according to a report by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
Teams are permitted to use video footage to decode signs being flashed by an opposing catcher to their pitchers after the game. That information, useful when the team at bat had a runner at second base, is regularly shared with players in pre-game meetings.
But MLB clubs are strictly prohibited from using in-game footage to do such realtime code breaking as the game is being played.
MLB investigators found that "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," according to Manfred.
"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."
Watkins is a West Point alum and former minor league catcher in the Red Sox organization.
The Red Sox said the wrong doing happened only during "isolated instances during the 2018 regular season," but nonetheless apologized.
"We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the" commissioner's ruling, according to a statement on Wednesday from CEO Sam Kennedy.
The Astros were caught using a video feed at the team's home stadium, Minute Maid Park, to tip off Houston batters of the pitch type that was about to be thrown. Signals were relayed to hitters by someone banging on a trash can.
By knowing the upcoming pitch type, batters gain a huge advantage by adjusting their timing. For instance, batters would know to swing early if a fastball was coming — or sit back and judge the location for a breaking ball or changeup.
Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch, Houston's general manager and field manager, were both fired from the club.
Houston was also fined a $5 million, the maximum allowed, and will forfeit its first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
Boston's transgressions did not rise to Houston's level of cheating, MLB said. Watkins' ill-gotten information would only have been valuable to the Red Sox when a Boston runner was at second base and would have a clear view of a catcher's signals.
"I find that unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’s conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact," according to Manfred.
Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora was suspended for one year, based on his work as a bench coach when he was with the 2017 champion Astros, Manfred also announced on Wednesday.
The Red Sox fired Cora in January, shortly after the Astros scandal came to light. MLB's suspension essentially means that Cora can't be hired by another team in the 2020 season — currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2017 Astros and 2018 Red Sox both won the World Series by defeating the National League-champion Los Angeles Dodgers those seasons.
The L.A. City Council, representing fans of their beloved bridesmaid Dodgers, have asked MLB to award their Boys in Blue the world title those years. The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988, marking the sport's 10th longest streak of futility.