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Come along as I dive into three men, who all operated outside the written rules of Major League Baseball; what they did, how they were punished, & what their current status is in Major League Baseball.
Those three men are John (Coppy) Coppolella, AJ Hinch, & Alex Cora. Each man will have their own section in this article, for easier navigation through this lengthy write-up.
Why is this relevant today?
Two of these three men were hired THIS PAST WEEK as field managers in Major League Baseball.
John Coppolella (Coppy)
In 2017, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred banished then Braves General Manager John Coppolella to Major League Baseball’s permanently ineligible list; translation: Coppy was banned from baseball, for life.
Coppy joined three others on the “permanently ineligible list”: Pete Rose (1989), Jenrry Mejia (2016), & Chris Correa (2017).
What did Coppy do?
MLB’s investigation determined Coppy & other Braves executives circumvented international signing rules from 2015-2017 by: “funneling extra signing bonus money to five players in 2015-16 by giving the funds first to another player considered a foreign professional under baseball’s rules and having the money redistributed to the other five. If the money had been counted for the other five, the Braves would have exceeded their pool by more than 5 percent and been restricted to signing bonuses of $300,000 or under for international amateurs through June 15, 2019.” per MLB.
Other than Coppy’s lifetime ban, what other punitive actions were taken against the Braves Organization?
USA Today reported: because of that, MLB voided the contracts of nine players the Braves would have been ineligible to sign: Venezuelan infielder Kevin Maitan ($4.25 million signing bonus), Venezuelan catcher Abrahan Gutierrez ($3.53 million), Dominican shortstop Yunior Severino ($1.9 million), Dominican right-hander Juan Contreras ($1.2 million), Dominican shortstop Yenci Pena ($1.05 million), Dominican right-hander Yefri del Rosario ($1 million), Cuban outfielder Juan Carlos Negret ($1 million), Venezuelan shortstop Livan Soto ($1 million) and Colombian right-hander Guillermo Zuniga ($350,000). Three players the Braves signed for $300,000 bonuses were set free because the Braves gave additional money to their agents by signing others to deals with what MLB called “inflated” bonuses: Venezuelan outfielder Antonio Sucre, Dominican outfielder Brandol Mezquita and Dominican shortstop Angel Rojas. Atlanta’s deal with South Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae, which also called for a $300,000 signing bonus, was rejected by MLB because the sides agreed to an additional $600,000 in compensation outside the contract.
In total, Atlanta took a $16.48 million loss in bonuses given to prospects who are no longer with the organization.
Coppy’s current status in Major League Baseball: permanently ineligible list.
A. J. Hinch
Andrew Jay Hinch was the manager of the Houston Astros from 2015-2019. His role as the big league manager in the Astros Organization was terminated upon investigation by MLB into the now infamous Astros sign-stealing scandal.
Directly from MLB’s investigation:
I. Rules Violations in the 2017 Season
At the beginning of the 2017 season, employees in the Astros’ video replay review room began using the live game feed from the center field camera to attempt to decode and transmit opposing teams’ sign sequences (i.e., which sign flashed by the catcher is the actual sign) for use when an Astros runner was on second base. Once the sign sequence was decoded, a player in the video replay review room would act as a “runner” to relay the information to the dugout, and a person in the dugout would notify the players in the dugout or signal the sign sequence to the runner on second base, who in turn would decipher the catcher’s sign and signal to the batter from second base. Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information. On at least some occasions, the employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence information by text message, which was received on the smart watch of a staff member on the bench, or in other cases on a cell phone stored nearby.
The report goes on to say…
“Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme. However, witnesses made clear that everyone proximate to the Astros’ dugout presumptively heard or saw the banging. In addition to players using the monitor installed near the dugout to decode signs, employees in the Astros’ replay review room continued to decode sign sequences using the monitors in the room and communicate those sequences to the dugout for use when a runner was on second base. Both methods of sign stealing were used by the team in parallel throughout the 2017 season.
III. Culpability of Astros Players and Employees for Rules Violations
The Astros’ methods in 2017 and 2018 to decode and communicate to the batter an opposing Club’s signs were not an initiative that was planned or directed by the Club’s top baseball operations officials. Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed. The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora. The efforts involving the replay review room staff were mentioned in at least two emails sent to Luhnow, and there is conflicting evidence about conversations with Luhnow on the topic. Regardless of the level of Luhnow’s actual knowledge, the Astros’ violation of rules in 2017 and 2018 is attributable, in my view, to a failure by the leaders of the baseball operations department and the Field Manager to adequately manage the employees under their supervision, to establish a culture in which adherence to the rules is ingrained in the fabric of the organization, and to stop bad behavior as soon as it occurred.”
In A.J. Hinch’s personal section of MLB’s findings…
“A.J. Hinch (Field Manager). Hinch neither devised the banging scheme nor participated in it. Hinch told my investigators that he did not support his players decoding signs using the monitor installed near the dugout and banging the trash can, and he believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement. However, Hinch admits he did not stop it and he did not notify players or Cora that he disapproved of it, even after the Red Sox were disciplined in September 2017. Similarly, he knew of and did not stop the communication of sign information from the replay review room, although he disagreed with this practice as well and specifically voiced his concerns on at least one occasion about the use of the replay phone for this purpose. As the person with responsibility for managing his players and coaches, there simply is no justification for Hinch’s failure to act. If Hinch was unsure about how to handle the situation, it was his responsibility to bring the issue to the attention of Luhnow. Hinch expressed much contrition both to me and my investigators for allowing the conduct to continue. Although I appreciate Hinch’s remorsefulness, I must hold him accountable for the conduct of his team, particularly since he had full knowledge of the conduct and chose to allow it to continue throughout the 2017 Postseason.”
Hinch’s current status in Major League Baseball: Field Manager of the Detroit Tigers.
Alex Cora was a Coach for the Houston Astros in 2017 & field manager of the Boston Red Sox from 2018-2019. Cora was also implicated in MLB’s investigation into the Astros sign-stealing scandal.
Cora named in MLB Investigation…
In the “Rules Violations in the 2017 season” section: “Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information. On at least some occasions, the employees in the replay review room communicated the sign sequence information by text message, which was received on the smart watch of a staff member on the bench, or in other cases on a cell phone stored nearby….Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltrán, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter. Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout. (The center field camera was primarily used for player development purposes and was allowed under MLB rules at the time when used for that purpose.) Witnesses have provided largely consistent accounts of how the monitor was utilized. One or more players watched the live feed of the center field camera on the monitor, and after decoding the sign, a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter. (Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.) Players occasionally also used a massage gun to bang the trash can. Generally, one or two bangs corresponded to certain off-speed pitches, while no bang corresponded to a fastball.
Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme. However, witnesses made clear that everyone proximate to the Astros’ dugout presumptively heard or saw the banging. In addition to players using the monitor installed near the dugout to decode signs, employees in the Astros’ replay review room continued to decode sign sequences using the monitors in the room and communicate those sequences to the dugout for use when a runner was on second base. Both methods of sign stealing were used by the team in parallel throughout the 2017 season.
…the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed. The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora.”
I’m Alex Cora’s personal section of MLB’s findings…
“Alex Cora (Bench Coach). Cora was involved in developing both the banging scheme and utilizing the replay review room to decode and transmit signs. Cora participated in both schemes, and through his active participation, implicitly condoned the players’ conduct. I will withhold determining the appropriate level of discipline for Cora until after the DOI completes its investigation of the allegations that the Red Sox engaged in impermissible electronic sign stealing in 2018 while Cora was the manager.”
Cora’s current status in Major League Baseball: Field Manager of the Boston Red Sox.
Alex Cora & A.J. Hinch are now back in baseball after a one-year suspension for their roles in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. Cora was, by MLB’s report, a major contributor & engineer in the Astros’ sign-stealing and relay operation. A.J. Hinch seems to have been largely opposed to the operation, going as far as to destroy some of the equipment used in the execution of the violation of baseball competition. But he knew about it, and as manager of the roster of players benefitting from the misuse of technology during MLB games he was responsible for creating a culture that condemns such actions, at which he failed. Even if he wasn’t completely aware of the operation, he heard the trashcan being banged on while he was in the dugout, but the trashcan signal continued, dealing his fate.
Coppy funneled money to amateur prospects through other players. Money that those amateurs were allowed to keep post-investigation. What Coppy did wasn’t right, obviously. But Coppolella didn’t directly affect the outcome of Major League Baseball games in real time. Coppolella didn’t sway the outcome of games, series’, & championships. Coppy didn’t use his field to spy on opponents while the Braves were batting. Coppy paid players in third world countries before they turned 17 years old.
Of the three men outlined in this article, Coppy is the least qualified to be on MLB’s “permanently ineligible list”. Yet, there he is.
Coppy violated Major League Baseball’s rules. Cora & Hinch violated the game.