Astros: Former GM Jeff Luhnow speaks on cheating scandal

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 02: Jeff Luhnow, general manager and president of baseball operations for the Houston Astros addresses the media as he introduces players acquired at the trade deadline at Minute Maid Park on August 02, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 02: Jeff Luhnow, general manager and president of baseball operations for the Houston Astros addresses the media as he introduces players acquired at the trade deadline at Minute Maid Park on August 02, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

In his first TV interview since being fired from the Houston Astros, former GM Jeff Luhnow tells his side of the Houston Astros cheating scandal.

For the first time since being fired from Houston Astros amid the sign stealing scandal, former general manager Jeff Luhnow sat down with KPRC-TV’s Vanessa Richardson to discuss his side of the story.

The interview started with when Jeff Luhnow learned of the cheating scandal and his termination from the Houston Astros, calling it the worst day of his life and something he doesn’t want to re-live.

"“It’s not a day I ever want to re-live, and it’s not a day I would ever want even my worst enemy to have to live through. It was the culmination of two pretty rough months; finding out in early November that our team had indeed broken the rules and had indeed cheated in 2017 and in parts of 2018 was devastating to me. It was devastating to our fans. And getting suspended by Major League Baseball; because I was GM during that time, I figured I would get some punishment. I figured I was looking at some suspension because I was the GM. I was not expecting a year-long suspension, I was certainly not expecting for the team I spent eight years building to fire me and let me go. So it was tough, no question about it."

Luhnow admits that he did not know about what the Houston Astros were doing in 2017, but heard from a 2018 rumor that something fishy was going on within the organization. He did ask team staff members if they knew what was going on in 2017 but no one came forward.

"“There had been some rumors in 2018, and in fact at two points in time, someone from MLB told me either in a casual conversation or called me, and said there had been rumors of the Astros sign-stealing in 2017. But, I wasn’t asked to follow-up on it, they weren’t asking me to do anything. It was sort of a heads-up, and I didn’t think we were doing anything so I didn’t pursue it. It isn’t a story, it’s the truth, Vanessa, and I’ve been consistent with the truth that I didn’t know from the beginning. The very first interview I had with Major League Baseball all the way until today. And when you’re telling the truth, it’s pretty easy to be consistent because you’re just recounting what happened. And if I go through all of my behavior, all of my actions, they’re consistent with someone who tells the truth and they’re also consistent with someone that didn’t know."

However, after the Red Sox/Yankees cheating scandal in 2017, Luhnow admitted that he did vote for stricter protocols to prevent cheating from happening in Major League Baseball.

"“I did a lot to try and prevent us from doing anything wrong. After the Red Sox and the Yankees were punished in 2017, I had a conversation with our manager, and I asked him if anybody in our dugout was using Fitbits or Apple Watches or anything that would be remotely considered against the rules. He told me that someone, one of our coaches, had been using an Apple Watch, but after the incident with the Red Sox had stopped wearing it because clearly we weren’t supposed to be doing that. He did not tell me anything else about trash can banging or any impropriety. I followed up with two other people in the baseball operations area; one on the medical side, and one that works for me, and made sure that they knew the rules and made sure they knew the rules and made sure that we were following the rules."

When asked how he could not know of the cheating going on under his feet and if he had any evidence, Luhnow replied,

"“I do have a lot of evidence. It’s hard to prove that you didn’t know something, it’s proving a negative. But the investigation interviewed dozens and dozens of people; players, video staff members, coaches, etc. None of them said that I knew. The investigation looked at emails, text messages, slack messages, tens of thousands of messages from different people. I handed over my phone to the MLB investigators. They went through all of my messages, and everything on my phone. I provided to the investigators several pieces of evidence that they used in the investigation. Unfortunately they turned some of those back around and tried to implicate me and say that I might have known. But I was proactive in assisting them in the investigation.“And then after the investigation was over and I was fired, I got access to about 22,000 text messages that were from personnel in the video room. And it was clear from those messages that they were communicating back and forth about the rule violations. They were aware of the Red Sox and Yankees rule violations, they were aware it was wrong, and they also were using text messages to cheat on the job. They were communicating signs, and this was to coaches, to people in the video room. It’s all there in black and white. And what’s also clear from it is who’s not involved. I’m not implicated. I’m not in any of those text messages. In fact, there’s a few text messages where they say ‘Don’t tell Jeff.’“So, it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t involved from that. But it’s also clear who was involved and how often it happened, and the extent to which it happened.”"

Before the cheating scandal broke, the Astros had another scandal on their hands, this time with Brandon Taubman, a baseball executive with the team at the time who was accused of making inappropriate comments toward female reporters after the Astros won the ALCS in 2019. Luhnow broke the news that Taubman would be fired because of the incident but did not like how the Astros had handled the situation.

"It was a horrible response. It never should have happened. But unfortunately I did. I take my responsibility in it. I should have stopped it, but that’s not my area of expertise. I was busy preparing for the World Series. There are people in the company; the legal department, the marketing department, the PR department; those are the people that are involved in crisis management. And they botched this one big time.”"

When asked if he thought the 2017 championship season was stained, Luhnow said that yes, it was.

"“Undoubtedly, the fact that the success has been stained by what happened in 2017, and ’18 to a certain extent. This team was so good. Vanessa, you gotta go back, you weren’t here… we were terrible. 2011, 2012, 2013. It was the worst team in baseball and it wasn’t even close. And we didn’t have a very good farm system either. We turned it around completely. By 2015, we made the playoffs. Think about it. 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020… five playoffs in six years. Four American League Championships in a row. Two World Series appearances, one title. That’s a run that no other team has been on in baseball has been on that type of run, maybe the Dodgers, but they never got to the same endpoint that we got to.“Why we have to soil that with ridiculous cheating executed by people who are … they didn’t ask for permission! They just did it. Whether it’s the players or the video staffers, they just decided on their own to do it and that’s a shame, because had they come and asked me for permission I would have said no. Had they gone and asked Jim for permission, he would have said no. There’s just no reason why that should have happened."

I’m glad we got to hear from Luhnow on the cheating scandal, as someone who was directly affected by someone else’s actions. What the Astros did was wrong and there is no way around it.

Should have Luhnow stopped it? Yes, he should have in hindsight. It would have prevented all of this and the aftermath from ever happening. But what is done is done and the penalties have been handed out and it’s time for everyone to move on and make sure this never happens again.