Plaintiffs in MLB Lawsuit Allege Sealed Letter Proves Yankees’ Sign-Stealing Scheme

Jesse Pantuosco
June 13, 2020 - 1:06 pm

The Astros’ sign-stealing controversy rocked the baseball world this offseason, tarnishing the team’s 2017 World Series triumph—their first title in franchise history—over the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Yankees, who fell to Houston that year in a thrilling, seven-game American League Championship series, have been among the Astros’ most vocal critics with CC Sabathia and Aaron Judge both showing their disdain for the disgraced world champs. The Red Sox found themselves embroiled in a similar scandal, but were essentially let off with a slap on the wrist (the team forfeited its second-round draft pick this year).

According to league insider Evan Drellich, the Bronx Bombers may soon be joining the rival Red Sox and Astros in MLB’s doghouse. In response to a lawsuit filed by aggrieved daily fantasy players, presiding Judge Jed Rakoff of the 2nd U.S. District Court of Appeals has ruled to unseal a 2017 letter from baseball commissioner Rob Manfred addressing findings from a league investigation. New York was fined in 2017 for a “minor technical infraction” related to sign-stealing, but plaintiffs in the DraftKings suit allege Manfred’s letter to GM Brian Cashman describes cheating of a more “serious” nature.

While Rakoff acknowledged that much of the letter’s content was already revealed in a 2017 press release detailing New York’s suspected wrongdoing during the 2015 and ‘16 seasons, plaintiffs are adamant the letter proves Manfred’s “duplicity,” which may explain why both the Yankees and MLB are seeking to keep the document sealed. The Yankees have until Monday at noon ET to submit a “minimally redacted” version of Manfred’s letter, which the court will unseal next Friday (June 19). The team is fully expected to file an emergency appeal, which could delay the unsealing.

“It is the Yankees’ understanding that the press release about the investigation reflects the Commissioner’s final determinations,” said Jonathan Schiller, a lawyer representing the team. “Those determinations were that the Yankees had committed a technical violation of MLB’s rules by misusing the dugout phone. The Yankees were not found to have violated any rule involving sign stealing.”

“The Yankees had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone,” Manfred stated in a press release dated September 15, 2017. “No Club complained about the conduct in question at the time and, without prompting from another Club or my Office, the Yankees halted the conduct in question.” Per Drellich, New York fears the letter, if unsealed, would cause “significant reputational injury,” though a club official insists the Yankees aren’t trying to “cover up some smoking gun.” The lawsuit brought by DraftKings users accuses Major League Baseball of “defrauding” DFS players by knowingly allowing teams to cheat including the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox.

While the letter is unlikely to produce a bombshell on par with what the Astros were found guilty of in 2017, the Yankees’ eagerness to keep it under lock and key suggests the Bombers may have something to hide.

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