I understand that some people are tired of talking about the Astros. With the investigations into the Astros and the Red Sox, as well as the debacle that is the Mookie Betts trade, the league isn’t looking too hot right now. I certainly would like to get past this, as it is a stain on the game we all love. But the reason we keep talking about them is that we don’t know the whole truth, and I don’t know if we ever will. And now we may have more questions from two different sources.
On Friday evening, Jared Diamond published an article in the Wall Street Journal introducing new details regarding the origins of the Astros’ cheating scandal. In the piece, he notes how it was intern Derek Vigoa, now the team’s senior manager for team operations, who showed a presentation to Jeff Luhnow that contained information about an Excel-based program that could decode catchers’ signs, dubbed “Codebreaker.” This was on September 22, 2016, the year before the scandal truly took form.
Throughout the investigation, Lunhow continually denied any knowledge of any transgressions. I know I may be biased, but I have to say that after reading the article Lunhow does not come off well. Commissioner Rob Manfred stated that “there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that [Lunhow] knew—and overwhelming evidence that [Lunhow] should have known—that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB’s rules.”
Houston’s director of advanced information Tom Koch-Weser repeatedly was in contact with Lunhow regarding their “dark arts, sign stealing department.” Diamond notes multiple occasions where Lunhow claimed to have read most of a document or email, but oddly always failed to read anything in relation to the sign stealing. Testimonies by Vigoa and Koch-Weser contradicted those of Lunhow throughout the article. This in turn just raises more questions: who was telling the truth? Who was lying? Because both sides cannot both be true. There were even other Astros employees who vouched against Lunhow, saying that there was full transparency regarding the “codebreaking.”
The article also mentions how the Astros’ sign stealing was not restricted to the 2017 season. It was also done during the 2018 season. Additionally, it wasn’t just restricted to their home games — they also used Codebreaker on the road. In October of 2018, Koch-Weser met with Lunhow to discuss a contract extension. During this meeting, Koch-Weser showed a Slack post with some of his reasons why he should be extended. One of them was this:
“I know the secrets that made us a championship team, some of which he[’]d (Lunhow) definitely feel a lot safer if they were kept in-house.”
Diamond’s article dropped about one hour before MLB Network aired an interview between Tom Verducci and former Astros manager A.J. Hinch regarding the scheme. Hinch was largely apologetic, but he did appear to tiptoe around some of the more difficult questions. One was regarding the Astros’ use of electronic devices such as buzzers during the 2019 season. He didn’t explicitly deny it.
The information in the article is new. Up until this point, we were to believe that the scheme was player-driven and that Alex Cora, the bench coach at the time, was one of the ringleaders. Now, it seems as if the front office conceived at least part of it.
So was it Lunhow who lied or all of the other employees? Did the Astros use buzzers in 2019? Did the front office or the players actually design the scheme? Are Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran scapegoats? Sadly, we may never know the answers to these questions, and given that this is arguably the biggest scandal in the history of the sport, there may be no end to this in the near future.