New York Yankees embroiled in sign-stealing row

Baseball team appeal court ruling that old letter must be shown to public

New York Yankees’ Gary Sanchez in action during the MLB London Series Match last summer. Picture: PA
New York Yankees’ Gary Sanchez in action during the MLB London Series Match last summer. Picture: PA

More baseball has been taking place in courtrooms and boardrooms than on the diamond this summer and that looks set to be the case moving forward too.

Players and owners are still locked in a battle over money, showing, if anything, how out of touch they are with the world right now. The latest round of negotiations has ended with the Players Association saying it will no longer listen to offers and that owners are to tell them when and where to show up and play. While this could see baseball played sooner rather than later, it is believed a messy court battle is inevitable.

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However, beating the players to the top of the docket this week is a group of daily fantasy players
and their claim that the league defrauded them because teams were sign-stealing during 2017 and 2018. During the trial, the issue of a sealed letter sent to the New York Yankees over allegations of sign stealing in 2017 was raised and the judge felt it was time the letter was shared with the public.

Sign stealing, for those not in the know, is the observing and relaying, through legal and illegal methods, of the signs being given by the opposing catcher to the pitcher or a coach to a base runner.

In 2017 the Boston Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount by Major League Baseball for using Apple Watches and replay booths to steal signs from pitchers, giving them an unfair advantage. Still, in the small print of that investigation, it was also noted the New York Yankees were fined a lesser amount, leading to speculation that they, too, had been caught stealing signs somehow.

At the time it was widely speculated that pitching coach Larry Rothschild admitted that he had used the dugout phone and asked the replay room if a pitch was a ball or strike, 
somewhat explaining the 
smaller fine issued to the Bronx Bombers.

But here we are, three years later, and the group of DraftKings daily fantasy players have taken MLB to court claiming they were defrauded over the sign-stealing.

While the judge dismissed the overall case, he did rule that a letter from the commissioner to New York should be unsealed. Judge Jed Rakoff ruled that a letter which has remained sealed to the public be unsealed no earlier than 19 June, allowing time for the Yankees to appeal, which they are expected to do immediately.

The Yankees legal team told The Athletic “there is no justification for the public disclosure of the letter”, arguing that it infringes the “Yankees’ right to confidentiality required by the Commissioner of Baseball”.

The legal team also stated that the team were not trying to cover up a smoking gun – so why such a steadfast fight?

Whether the letter ultimately remains sealed or not, it still shows that the famous pinstripes of the Yankees are muddied. Why, if the team are innocent and if it was only a “phone call”, would they mount such a strong legal challenge?

The plaintiffs alleged that in the 2017 press release relating to an investigation into the previous two seasons, MLB stated the Yankees were fined for a minor infraction. It is argued the letter points to a more significant and comprehensive sign-stealing system.

Having seen the letter, the legal team of the fantasy players believe it proves MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s “duplicity” in defrauding them, and ultimately the whole of baseball.

For Manfred, this would be a second significant failing from the commissioner this summer after failing to get the season started. If the letter is published and proves he knew more than was let on at the time, then Manfred will have no standing to remain in his position as leader of baseball.

For the Yankees, the biggest brand in baseball – despite other teams having significant overseas markets, none comes close to the reach of the famous NYY logo – this could be a disaster.

The Yankees fanbase was the first, and by far most vociferous, about Houston and hated rivals Boston being caught in last year’s sign-stealing scandal. These fans demanded harsher punishments and wanted their world series titles stripped, but what will their reaction be this week if and when this letter is revealed to the public?

I guarantee they will be the first to brush it under the carpet if they even acknowledge it happened 
at all.

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