MLB pins Red Sox sign-stealing scandal on video room operator

Former manager Alex Cora has escaped punishment for the Red Sox sign-stealing scandal in 2018 as the league’s report puts the blame on video room operator J.T. Watkins

Major League Baseball has cleared former Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora from any involvement in the club’s sign-stealing scandal during the 2018 season, according to the league’s report released on Wednesday.

Instead, Commissioner Rob Manfred has found that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video room operator, was the instigator of the scheme and suspended him for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Cora, though, was also handed a year-long ban for his role in the Astros sign-stealing scheme from 2017, when he served as the club’s bench coach.

The Red Sox organization is also being punished with the loss of a second-round draft pick in 2020.

“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,” the report finds. “Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.”

In January, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that in 2018, when the Red Sox set a franchise record with 108 wins and led the league in runs scored and batting average, they employed a system to steal opposing teams’ signs during games. A player would visit the video replay room, located close to the dugout at Fenway Park, to get the signs then relay the information to a base runner. The Red Sox would go on to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, but the league has found the scheme did not carry over into the 2018 postseason or into 2019.

Cora, who was already implicated as a major factor in the Astros scandal that used a camera in center field to relay signals to a video monitor and banging on trash cans to alert the hitter what pitched was coming, was fired by Boston on Jan. 14. He was replaced by Ron Roenicke on an interim basis.

There are some notable differences between the Red Sox and Astros schemes, however. The league has found that the Red Sox scheme was not widely used and was more limited in scope compared to that of the Astros. Like the Astros, the league has not disciplined any player, and the World Series title is not affected.

Watkins denied to MLB investigators that he was stealing signs during games, instead asserting that all the information he gave to players was based on pregame scouting. At least six players, though, told the league that they had witnessed him decoding signs while the game was in progress, with one players saying he had “no doubt” that Watkins decoded signs “on occasion.”

Before the 2018 season, MLB issued a memo to each club stating that any use of video equipment to steal signs was in violation of league rules. The Red Sox were punished in 2017 for the “Apple Watch Incident,” during which Watkins used text messages to send signs to the dugout.

Cora’s suspension takes effect even if the 2020 season is unable to be played because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If no games are played this season, Cora could very well be back in a Major League clubhouse in 2021 without missing any games.

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