The Bronx Boneheads

This is what the Yankees were afraid of being exposed? After two years, accidentally turning up during a lawsuit’s discovery phase, and a few legal contortions on behalf of blocking it from anyone else’s sight, this is what the Yankeegate letter was all about? Their own 2015-2017 replay-room reconnaissance ring, a la the 2018 Rogue Sox?

No, we’re not going to argue that electronic cheating isn’t so terrible even if it doesn’t rise quite to the Astrogate level. Agree that neither those Yankees nor those Red Sox were behaving themselves, even if the Yankees didn’t get far enough in the postseason to try it in a World Series the way the ’18 Rogue Sox probably did.

But someone, anyone. Please.

Tell me the Bronx Boneheads aren’t that deeply full of themselves that they couldn’t have withstood whatever minor slings, arrows, brickbats, and bashings would have confronted them over mere replay room reconnaissance. Tell me they’re not that ridiculous about preserving the Yankee image no matter how little their sneaky little shoplifters resemble the grand theft felons.

About the only thing the Yankee prankees seem to have done a little differently than the Rogue Sox was use their dugout phone on the road to get the stolen signs from the road replay room and then transmit it to a baserunner to send home to the batter.

Cheating is cheating? Please. This was comparable only to teen comedians ordering pizzas for deliveries to unsuspecting chumps across town. It didn’t exactly amount to seizing the pizzeria and taking hostages.

Since there were unconfirmed numbers of other teams doing likewise with their free presents from MLB, those other teams are probably laughing their fool heads off over the lengths to which the Yankees spent time and money trying to keep the Yankeegate letter from escaping into the public eye.

Yes, I said free presents from MLB. It was MLB itself that laid the replay rooms on both clubhouses in all ballparks starting in 2014. They did it with the best intentions. Perhaps naively, they forgot that boys will be boys, and presents such as those were probably bound to inspire a little extracurricular chicanery.

Since Astrogate and Soxgate’s exposure in 2019-20, the rules now involve security personnel posted at all replay rooms. Before the December-March owners’ lockout, both sides were close enough to agreeing, too, on more stringent measures such as no one but a team’s designated operator plus an MLB security worker allowed in the rooms, and even blacking out catcher’s pitch signs on the replay room monitors.

But while you have your laughs-and-halves over the Yankees resembling the siblings scrambling to Watergate coverup lengths to keep Mom and Dad from learning one of them accidentally smashed the crystal pilsner glass, causing it to shatter into a trillion shards, try to remember that this does not and will not get the 2017-18 Astros off the hook.

The Yankees, the Rogue Sox, and other teams who merely turned the replay rooms into their versions of Spy vs. Spy didn’t go to even half the lengths those Astros did for intelligence gathering and transmitting.

Their general managers, so far as anyone knows, didn’t sanction sign-stealing algorithms developed by low-level interns and ignore the warnings that using them in-game was illegal. Now-former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow thought of that with the Codebreaker algorithm.

Their bench coaches and designated hitters didn’t dream up either an independent high-speed real-time camera or alter an existing delayed camera into illegal real-time transmission to deliver opposing signs to clubhouse monitors next to which a transmission person could signal Astro batters by banging the trash can, slowly or otherwise. Then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora and DH Carlos Beltran did. (Smile—you’re on Candid Camera!)

“These are different things. Very, very different things,” tweeted ESPN’s Jeff Passan after the Yankeegate letter was obtained by SNY.

Players have been trying to steal and relay signs from second base forever. That doesn’t excuse the Yankees and Red Sox, but context matters. Relaying pitches with such specificity as the Astros did was entirely new.

Now, if MLB comes down harder on the Yankees or Red Sox in 2017, does that change things? Perhaps. Maybe the Astros are scared straight. But let’s remember: Manfred warned the Red Sox in 2017 after using the Apple Watch. And they won the World Series in 2018 while cheating . . .

Using technology to steal signs was rampant in baseball. The Yankees, Red Sox and Astros — and others whose indiscretions have not been proven publicly — did it. It’s simply facile to treat them as the same. It’s factual to say that there are different levels of cheating.

The one true revelation in the Yankeegate letter is that commissioner Rob Manfred actually fined the Yankees $100,000 after they were caught using their dugout phone in September 2017. Seriously?

They spent two years and who knows how much money in legal costs to try to suppress . . . that their mere replay room reconnaissance ring of 2017-18 wasn’t even half the Astro Intelligence Agency and cost them in the end slightly less than half what they pay pitcher Gerrit Cole per day?

The Yankees feared “significant and reputational harm” if the letter was made public. That fear may have been well founded. But not for the reasons the Bronx Boneheads thought.

Coming at last, the Yankeegate letter

Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman

Manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman may have a lot of explaining to do when the Yankeegate sign-stealing letter comes forth to the public.

It didn’t happen when I thought it would happen, but the now-infamous Yankeegate letter will be made public. The Yankees couldn’t quite convince the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals to reconsider their original denial last month.

They couldn’t convince the court that releasing the letter would calcify your spine, cut your circulation off, amputate both your arms, or destroy the world’s coffee bean crops.

Writing for the three-member panel, Judge Joseph Bianco said it’s very much in the public interest whether commissioner Rob Manfred wrote to Yankee general manager Brian Cashman that he knew the Yankees were up to a little bit more in 2017 than just a little subterfuge involving their dugout telephone.

“As the judge explained it,” writes Sportico‘s Michael McCann, “the letter is a judicial document, which means it is presumptively accessible to the public.” Not to mention Manfred and baseball’s government compromising any privacy arguments by letting a takeaway or two escape to the public purview in the first place.

Major League Baseball swore to anyone who’d listen that the Yankees weren’t using cameras belonging to their YES broadcasting network for any extracurricular in-game field intelligence, while fining them over the dugout phone. MLB also fined the Red Sox after an assistant trainer was caught using his AppleWatch for such intelligence gathering.

It took Astrogate and its fallout to help Manfred to zap the Red Sox, at least, over their 2018 replay room reconnaissance ring, which wasn’t quite as grave as the Astros’ off-field-based, illegal electronic sign-stealing intelligence agency. Both the Astros’ 2017 World Series title and the Rogue Sox’s 2018 World Series title have since been suspect.

The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009. But if the Manfred letter to Cashman reveals anything deeper than a dugout phone at play in any such Yankee intelligence operation, it won’t take the 2017-18 Astros off the hook but it will put the 2017 Yankees on the hook squarely enough.

Suspecting numerous teams used their replay rooms for subterfuge is one thing. Answering it to the extremes the Astros went and the Yankees might have gone is something else entirely. We won’t know until the letter’s release how far the Yankees actually went. But when the Yankees say in court documents that the letter will inflict “significant and reputational harm” if released, look out.

“The letter could also mention coaches, staff and players who were alleged to have played roles in possible shenanigans . . . MLB attorneys have similarly warned the letter could ’cause potential embarrassment,’ while insisting the letter’s release is motivated by ‘perceived shock value’,” McCann writes.

That could prove a significant embarrassment, especially remembering how Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge insisted that Astros second baseman Jose Altuve’s 2017 American League Most Valuable Player award was now tainted in light of Astrogate. Altuve has since been shown not only to have objected to the Astros’ trash-can banging of stolen signs while he was at the plate, but he wasn’t actually wearing any kind of buzzer under his uniform at any time.

The Yankeegate letter saga began when the DraftKings fantasy sports group sued the Astros, the Red Sox, and MLB itself over those teams’ 2017-18 cheatings, and pre-trial discovery included filing the letter under seal. DraftKings lost their $5 million lawsuit, and releasing the letter won’t reinstate the suit. Nor will it take the Astro Intelligence Agency or the Rogue Sox Reconnaissance Ring off the hook.

But one of the five DraftKings plaintiffs, Kristopher Olson, has told McCann that the courts must “recognize the distinction between diffuse, random acts of rules breaking, like the use of corked bats by individual players, and a concentrated, coordinated campaign like the one in which the Astros engaged and [that] MLB took steps to downplay and conceal.”

It took pitcher Mike Fiers blowing the whistle at last to Athletic writers Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich to un-conceal Astrogate in November 2019. Manfred himself was compelled to leave almost every Astro player unpunished in return for getting them to spill about the AIA. Drellich’s in-depth Astrogate examination, Winning Fixes Everything: The Rise and Fall of the Houston Astros, twice delayed since last August, is now due to be published in September.

Manfred crunched the Astros with stripped draft picks and owner Jim Crane with a $5 million fine, not to mention imposing yearlong suspensions of then-manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, whom Crane fired posthaste. The players’ union and MLB agreed since that any players involved in any degree of Astrosoxyankeegate-like espionage can be suspended without pay and with a concurrent loss of MLB service time.

Hinch eventually admitted in a wrenching interview that, except for a couple of clubhouse-monitor smashings, he could have but didn’t do more to thwart the AIA. Then, after serving his year’s suspension, he found new life as the Tigers’ manager.

We learned soon enough, too, that Luhnow approved a staffer-created algorithm designed to steal signs from off the field before then-bench coach Alex Cora and then-designated hitter Carlos Beltran masterminded an operation involving either an extra camera or illegally-altered-to-real-time existing one for the AIA. The Astros’ mealymouthed presser as spring training 2020 opened left them an even worse look. The pan-damn-ically cut-off spring training and delayed regular 2020 season shielded them partially from fan retribution.

The Rogue Sox didn’t take quite the beating over the 2018 cheaters as the Astros did, but then the Sox so far were proven only to have been one team who did figure out that their replay room—bestowed by MLB upon home and road teams in all ballparks—had its extracurricular uses. Manfred purged their video room operator J.T. Watkins but, again, let players off the hook in return for details.

Rogue Sox manager Cora, hired for 2018, also resigned before he could be fired in 2020. He, too, gave a self-lacerating interview while sitting out a year-long suspension; it may have helped his re-hiring for last year. Beltran was hired after the 2019 season to manage the Mets, but he was forced out before he got to manage even a single spring training game for them. He works now as a Yankee broadcast analyst.

The Yankeegate letter’s full disclosure may inspire Astrogate-like wrath toward the Yankees. The outrage might be enough to force Manfred to drop at least an Astrogate-like hammer upon the Yankee front office and even manager Aaron Boone. (MLB says releasing the letter would be “embarrassing” to it, too.) “May” and “might” are the operative words there.

If so, there’ll be plenty of fan bases, including the one for those National League East-leaders playing across town in Queens, who’ll think it couldn’t happen to a nicer team.