Astros Owner Stands Behind Decision To Fire Luhnow, Hinch
Astros Owner Jim Crane said that the "need to clean house" in the wake of the sign-stealing scheme "warranted the dismissal" of President of Baseball Operations & GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, according to a front-page piece by David Barron of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. As a result of an investigation into the Astros' sign-stealing, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred yesterday "suspended Luhnow and Hinch for a year without pay." He also fined the Astros $5M and "stripped the ballclub of its first- and second-round draft choices" in '20 and '21. However, Crane said that his "'higher standards for the city and the franchise' required him to take the more drastic step" of firing Luhnow and Hinch. While Manfred said that neither Luhnow nor Hinch "developed the sign-stealing system," both "bore responsibility for allowing cheating to proceed without stopping it." Barron notes no players were "sanctioned by MLB, although Manfred's report specifically named Carlos Beltran," who now serves as manager of the Mets. The report also cited the "involvement of Alex Cora," the Astros' '17 bench coach who since '18 has been manager of the Red Sox. Manfred said that while Luhnow "denied knowledge of the scheme, 'documentary and testimonial evidence' indicated that he had some knowledge of cheating 'but did not give it much attention.'" He also said that Luhnow "created a 'problematic' culture within the Astros' baseball operations department" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14).
CULTURE WARS: In Houston, Chandler Rome notes Manfred "excoriated the 'insular culture' of the Astros' baseball operations department under Luhnow." However, Crane "denied Manfred's assertion of a culture problem within his organization." Crane said, "We have over 400 people working here, and they work hard. I think there was some isolated situations that led to that. We have one of the best business operations in baseball, and I think if we did have any problems, we'll quickly define those problems and move forward in a very positive way" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14). THE ATHLETIC's Ken Rosenthal wrote Crane "can not be excused for allowing that culture to fester" (1/13). USA TODAY's Gabe Lacques writes Crane "comes off as merely the shepherd of the Astros' business operations, his hands clean." Yet Manfred "should know that everything is systemic, and any culture in baseball operations is merely being executed at the pleasure of ownership" (USA TODAY, 1/14).
MAKING THE RIGHT CALL: In Houston, Jerome Solomon notes Crane has "proved he is a winner." He showed yesterday how "important winning the right way is to him." With all the "good Crane has done in taking a franchise that had been run into the ground by Drayton McLane and turning it into a source of civic pride, his organization needed a cleanse." The "embarrassment of his franchise forever being tainted by a cheating scandal moved Crane to take the extraordinary step of dismissing the two men he most credited with turning the Astros into World Series champions" in '17 (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14). In St. Louis, Ben Frederickson writes Crane deserves a "morsel of credit for pairing remorseful words with actions." Allowing Luhnow and Hinch to return after their suspensions "would have been disrespectful to the game" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 1/14). In Houston, Brian Smith in a front-page piece writes, "By firing Luhnow and Hinch, Crane played billionaire PR 101: Protect the brand at all costs" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14).
SETTING A PRECEDENT: In Austin, Kirk Bohls writes Manfred "made a clear example of the Astros and established a very strong precedent." There is "zero ambiguity involved in his report, and be wary, those who still feel cheating is worth the risk, although some might think it is." The punishments, "massive as they are, fit the crime" (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN, 1/14). On Long Island, David Lennon writes Manfred was "able to make an example" of the Astros, and one "scary enough that should keep teams in line moving forward" (NEWSDAY, 1/14). In Chicago, Paul Sullivan writes while the penalties are "considered severe, it could've been much, much worse for the Astros." The Astros "got off relatively easy" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/14).
HARD TO MOVE PAST THIS: The CHRONICLE's Smith writes yesterday was the "darkest day in Astros history." There had "never been a day" like yesterday for MLB. It was "instantly clear the Astros were never going to be the same" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14). The CHRONICLE's Rome writes, "With the firings, the most amazing era of Astros baseball is indelibly sullied" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14). USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale writes the Astros' reputation is "ruined, and their future severely damaged" (USA TODAY, 1/14). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey writes there is "no way to dilute the fact that Houston conned its way to a championship" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/14). SPORTSNET.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith wrote the Astros' title in '17 has "clearly been tainted." Nicholson-Smith: "We know now they got to the top by breaking the rules" (SPORTSNET.ca, 1/13). In Louisville, Tim Sullivan writes if the Astros' World Series banner "does not come down at Minute Maid Park, it should henceforth bear an asterisk" (Louisville COURIER JOURNAL, 1/14). The CHRONICLE's Smith: "It's going to be a long time before the Astros look and feel like the team you fell in love with in 2015" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/14). The Athletic's Rosenthal said, "They are forever tainted and the sport, to some degree, is tainted, too." MLB Network's Dan O'Dowd said this was a "complete breakdown in institutional culture" ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 1/13).