Sports

The Astros scandal is the gift that keeps on giving

Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ latest object of schadenfreude

Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ latest object of schadenfreude
Photo: Getty Images

Every time I try to get out, the Astros’ cheating scandal of 2017 keeps pulling me back in! Whether it’s new information coming out that perhaps other teams were conducting similar schemes, new video footage detailing how José Altuve likely never participated in the team’s sign-stealing shenanigans, or just people telling everyone to get over it when they have zero right to tell anyone who wasn’t immediately affected by the 2017 Astros to get over it, the banging of trash cans in the Astros’ dugout has withstood the test of time. Other scandals have happened since the ‘Stros were exposed in 2019 and “punished” in 2020: Spider Tack, the 2021 Hall of Fame vote, Trevor Bauer, but even after nearly five years since Houston won their championship, their cheating scandal is still one of the most-talked about and divisive scandals in MLB history.

Today, the unending fountain of tomfoolery continued to spew as ‘The Athletic’ reported that former Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow deleted a hefty amount of data off his phone to avoid any further indictment and even instructed one of his colleagues, Bill Firkus, to warn others within the Astros organization that MLB may collect their devices to look for evidence.

Further investigation revealed that although Luhnow had warned the entire Astros staff of MLB’s impending investigation, only one person with the team actually deleted anything off their phones… Luhnow. That’s partially Luhnow’s fault. According to the report, Luhnow’s message to high-ranking officials within the Astros’ organization fell on dull ears as his instructions were unclear. Luhnow never directly told anybody to “delete” information off their phones, rather just informed them that MLB may confiscate their devices and said “if you have things you don’t want anyone to see [on those devices], I would get rid of them.”

That quote came from Matt Hogan, who was serving as the team’s manager of pro scouting analysis at the time. Other high-ranking officials within the Astros’ organization had odd encounters with Firkus as well. Derek Vigoa, the team’s then senior manager of team operations, recalled the message as strange for two reasons. For one, Firkus specifically told Vigoa to tell the truth, thus implying that Luhnow did not assume Vigoa would. Second, Vigoa had a great relationship with Luhnow at the time, so why wouldn’t Luhnow relay that message personally?

When Manfred’s letter detailing the evidence against the Astros and Luhnow was released to the public, most of the evidence was listed. However, the fact that Luhnow had deleted information from his phone and erased the backups was not one of the key pieces listed. In his letter to Luhnow dated January 2, 2020, Manfred wrote, “Your credibility is further impacted by the fact that you permanently deleted information from your phone and its backups in anticipation that my investigators would seek to search your phone … You did not tell my investigators that you had done this until they confronted you about it in your second interview. While you explained that you were simply deleting sensitive personal photographs, I have no way to confirm that you did not delete incriminating evidence.”

When Manfred says “deleted information from your phone,” he isn’t doing Luhnow’s work justice. Luhnow didn’t just delete some information. He deleted EVERYTHING! When investigators were given Luhnow’s phone, it had no standard call logs listed, despite the fact that Luhnow had several calls with then-Astros manager AJ Hinch. Emails between Luhnow and other colleagues that were found on their devices were nowhere to be found on Luhnow’s.

The worst part of it all is Luhnow’s excuse for deleting all this information. “I had pictures on my phone of my wife giving birth to our son, and I deleted those at her request prior to handing over my phone.” Luhnow continued, claiming “not one work related item was deleted.”

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*

I understand not wanting MLB investigators to see pictures of your wife and kids. That’s private material. Explain the missing calls though Mr. Luhnow! Was AJ Hinch secretly a part of your family for years that we didn’t know about? Did you guys co-parent? He got them on weekends and every other Sunday? Did you and him only talk about your personal lives? Did you exchange credit card info and social security numbers? What could’ve possibly been so personal in every single call that you had to delete all of them?

According to the report, MLB would have even been willing to have a third party go through Luhnow’s phone in order to prevent MLB from seeing the photos, but Luhnow never bothered to ask for such a request.

When confronted on these deletions, Luhnow did eventually fess up, but claimed that nothing else had been deleted. That was also a lie. MLB eventually found evidence of nine deleted messages between Luhnow and then-director of advanced information, Tom Koch-Weser, within the SMS database. Unfortunately, those messages could never be recovered. While MLB cannot definitively determine how much of Luhnow’s deleted data were photos, the league approximated that photos only accounted for a small percentage of what was considered a massive data dump.

At this point, I’m over the Astros scandal (mostly). I think we all know they were a bunch of cheaters, or at best accessories to cheating, and while a few players have claimed that they did not know what they were doing was wrong, the efforts that Luhnow took to delete information, lie about the deleted information, and then double down on the lie when called out is evidence enough that everybody knew what they were doing was wrong. It was that place deep down inside you don’t talk about at parties, that monster under the bed, that skeleton in their closet that they tried to pretend was normal. If it was so normal, they wouldn’t have gone through so much effort to hide it. They would’ve fessed up when that information got leaked. They didn’t. You knew it was wrong. You’re not sorry, you’re just sorry you got caught.

But that’s in the past now. Hopefully, the Astros, or any team for that matter, don’t steal signs electronically anymore, so the 2022 World Series is fair game. Should the Astros win it all, I’ll gladly tip my cap and say “Well done” with zero ill intent. Hell, I give them massive props for reaching the World Series last year. However, you can’t deny that every time new information on the scandal gets released, it’s never a good look for that already widely-despised franchise.

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