MLB, Yankees statements on 2017 letter

Major League Baseball and the Yankees both issued statements Tuesday after the contents of a previously sealed letter from Commissioner Rob Manfred to Yankees general manager and senior vice president Brian Cashman from September 2017 were revealed publicly for the first time.

In the letter, which was dated Sept. 14, 2017, Manfred informed Cashman that an investigation into sign-stealing claims found the Yankees used the video replay room in 2015 and 2016 to decode sign sequences and pass them to a runner on second base, who would then relay them to the batter. The Yankees were fined $100,000 for improper usage of the dugout phone. The investigation cleared the Yankees of using the YES Network cameras (ie the center-field camera) to steal signs, as the Red Sox had alleged.

The letter does not include accusations of the Yankees using technology to steal signs during the 2017 season and, importantly, predates a Sept. 15, 2017, announcement by Manfred that, from that day forward, electronic sign stealing would be subject to more severe punishments. The Astros and Red Sox were both later punished for electronic sign stealing that took place after Sept. 15, 2017.

MLB’s statement on the matter reads as follows:

“As previously made public in 2017, the New York Yankees were fined for improper use of the dugout phone because the replay review regulations prohibited the use of the replay phone to transmit any information other than whether to change a play. The Yankees did not violate MLB’s rules at the time governing sign stealing.

“At that time, use of the replay room to decode signs was not expressly prohibited by MLB rules as long as the information was not communicated electronically to the dugout. Because rules regarding use of replay had evolved, many clubs moved their video equipment to close proximity to the field, giving personnel the potential ability to quickly relay signs to the field.

“MLB clarified the rules regarding the use of electronic equipment on Sept. 15, 2017. MLB took further action on March 27, 2018, by drawing a clear line and making it explicit to all 30 clubs that any clubhouse or video room equipment could not be used to decode signs and that future violations of electronic sign stealing would be subject to serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

The Yankees had resisted the public release of the letter as part of a lawsuit filed by DraftKings contestants that alleged damages from MLB sign-stealing. In April 2020, US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff dismissed the lawsuit but ordered the letter be unsealed. The Yankees lost their final appeal of that decision last week.

The Yankees statement reads:

“The contents and details of the letter from Commissioner Manfred to Brian Cashman have widely been reported upon since 2017. As the facts of the letter again show, the Yankees were not penalized for sign stealing but were penalized for improper use of the telephone in the replay room (which was only to be used for discussions regarding replay review challenges). At that point in time, sign stealing was utilized as a competitive tool by numerous teams throughout Major League Baseball and only became illegal after the Commissioner’s specific delineation of the rules on Sept. 15, 2017.

“The Yankees were also vindicated by Major League Baseball regarding claims that the team employed YES Network resources in efforts to gain an illegal advantage during games. Those claims were found to have no merit.

“The Yankees vigorously fought the production of this letter, not only for the legal principle involved, but to prevent the incorrect equating of events that occurred before the establishment of the Commissioner’s sign-stealing rules with those that took place after. What should be made vibrantly clear is this: The fine noted in Major League Baseball’s letter was imposed before MLB’s new regulations and standards were issued.

“Since Major League Baseball clarified its regulations regarding the use of video room equipment on Sept. 15, 2017, the Yankees have had no infractions or violations.”

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