Yankees up in arms after judge orders to unseal MLB letter

The illegal sign-stealing drama that rocked MLB before the pandemic may not be over — and this time it involves the Yankees.

A letter from commissioner Rob Manfred to the Yankees detailing the findings of a 2017 investigation into the ball club’s alleged sign-stealing program should be unsealed, a judge ruled Friday, according to The Athletic.

The Yankees and MLB reportedly have until noon on Monday to submit a “minimally redacted version of the letter,” though the Yankees argued it would cause “significant reputational injury,” U.S. District Court judge Jed Rakoff wrote in an order.

Rakoff’s ruling is tied to a lawsuit filed by DraftKings players against MLB, the Astros and Red Sox for allegedly defrauding them with their respective sign-stealing programs. Rakoff dismissed the suit in April but the plaintiffs have since appealed the case to the appealed the case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Three years before Houston became the face of illegal sign-stealing, the Yankees and Red Sox were both fined an undisclosed amount for improper use of a bullpen phone during a previous season.

Manfred wrote in 2017 that the Yankees “had violated a rule governing the use of the dugout phone,” but that the “substance of the communications [over the phone] was not a violation.” The Yankees were fined an undisclosed amount, as were the Red Sox for allegedly using an Apple Watch to relay stolen signs.

Brian Cashman
Brian CashmanAP

This was before MLB updated its rules regarding electronic sign-stealing following the 2017 season, which led to the Astros being punished this offseason.

The Draft King “plaintiffs alleged that the 2017 Press Release falsely suggested that the investigation found that the Yankees had only engaged in a minor technical infraction, whereas, according to plaintiffs, the investigation had in fact found that the Yankees engaged in a more serious, sign-stealing scheme,” Rakoff wrote Friday, per The Athletic.

In a statement to the Athletic, Yankees lawyer Jonathan Schiller wrote that “there is no justification for public disclosure of the letter. The plaintiff has no case anymore, and the court held that what MLB wrote in confidence was irrelevant to the court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s case. Under established law, this supports the Yankees’ right to confidentiality required by the Commissioner of Baseball.”

Schiller told The Athletic the findings in question were regarding issues that happened in 2015 and 2016.

“It is the Yankees’ understanding that the press release about the investigation reflects the Commissioner’s final determinations,” Schiller said. “Those determinations were that the Yankees had committed a technical violation of MLB’s rules by misusing the dugout phone. The Yankees were not found to have violated any rule involving sign stealing. The press release is accurate and states MLB’s conclusions.

A Yankees official also told The Athletic, “We’re not doing this to cover up some smoking gun.”

The letter is set to be unsealed June 19, giving the Yankees time to order a likely emergency appeal.

MLB punished the Astros in January after finding the club used electronics to steal catchers’ signs when they won the World Series in 2017 and parts of the next season. MLB’s second investigation into the Red Sox finally wrapped up in April, though their illegal sign-stealing was pinned on their video replay operator.


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