MLB commissioner Rob Manfred suspended former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for their connection to the team's sign-stealing scheme. He also handed down a $5 million fine and took away multiple draft picks from the Astros. File Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 16 (UPI) -- As players from around the league continue to criticize MLB's handling of the Houston Astros, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred defended his punishment of the organization for its sign-stealing scandal.
In a wide-ranging interview with ESPN on Sunday, Manfred offered an explanation as to why he didn't discipline any Astros players for their roles in the scheme, which involved illegal use of technology to steal signs of opposing teams and relay them to Houston batters in real time.
"I understand people's desires to have the players pay a price for what went on here," Manfred said. "I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price. To think they're skipping down the road into spring training, happy, that's just a mischaracterization of where we are.
"Having said that, the desire to have actual discipline imposed on them, I understand it and in a perfect world it would have happened. We ended up where we ended up in pursuit of really, I think, the most important goal of getting the facts and getting them out there for people to know it."
Major League Baseball announced last month that a league investigation confirmed the Astros cheated during the regular season and postseason of their World Series-winning 2017 campaign.
According to Manfred, the Astros used a camera-based system to steal signs of opposing teams during the 2017 season and parts of the 2018 campaign.
The sign-stealing scandal led to the suspension and subsequent firing of former Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow last month. Manfred also handed the Astros organization a record $5 million fine and stripped the club of multiple draft picks.
But none of the Astros players involved with the operation were suspended or fined, and Manfred previously indicated that MLB had no plans to strip the Astros of their 2017 World Series championship. Those decisions have drawn widespread criticism from players and managers around the league.
"In the context of my original decision, something that we talked about and analyzed extensively," Manfred said of potentially taking the Astros' title away. "A big topic of conversation between me and my senior staff.
"It has never happened in baseball. I am a believer in the idea that precedent happens and when you deviate from that, you have to have a very good reason. The report gave people a transparent account of what went on. We put people in position to make their own judgments about the behavior that went on. That certainly has happened over the last month.
"The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act. People will always know that something was different about the 2017 season, and whether we made that decision right or wrong, we undertook a thorough investigation, and had the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty."
When asked about the league's plans moving forward, Manfred indicated that MLB would restrict video access during games.
"No question we'll have a new policy before the 2020 season," Manfred said. "I don't deny video can help you perform if you have access to it during the game, but a golfer can't come off the sixth and take a look at his swing. ... We're going to have to live with less access to live video in and around the dugout and clubhouse."
The league's investigation also impacted other MLB franchises. Former Astros bench coach Alex Cora lost his job as manager of the Boston Red Sox on Jan. 14, and ex-Astros player Carlos Beltran was removed from his managerial position with the New York Mets two days later.
Cora and Beltran were singled out in Manfred's report as the ringleaders of the sign-stealing scheme in 2017.
MLB is also investigating the Red Sox for allegedly stealing signs of opposing teams during their 2018 championship season when Cora was manager. Manfred said a decision on that probe could be out within two weeks.
"We have done everything we could possibly do to get the facts right," Manfred told reporters at a news conference later Sunday. "I'm still thinking the end of next week we should be done and have a decision out -- end of next week, not this week, but the following week."