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.