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MLB Punishes Red Sox In Sign Stealing Scandal

The Boston Red Sox's illegal sign stealing during their 2018 championship season has cost them their second-round draft pick this year, a decision announced by Major League Baseball Wednesday.

An MLB report concludes that J.T. Watkins, the team's video replay operator, was the major culprit in the 2018 scandal, but the wrongdoing happened only in limited circumstances.

"The information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base (which was 19.7% of plate appearances leaguewide in 2018), and Watkins communicated sign sequences in a manner that indicated that he had decoded them from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences," wrote Commissioner Robert Manfred, Jr.

These instances were much more limited in scope and less choreographed than the Houston Astros 2017 cheating, the report found.

Watkins, who has denied the cheating allegations, has been suspended without pay through the 2020 season and postseason. He has also been banned from operating the team's video replay through 2021. Baseball is entirely shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.

MLB officials found that then-Red Sox manager Alex Cora, other staff and most team members likely did not know about the sign changing.

Cora, who mutually agreed to part ways with the Red Sox in January, was previously the Houston Astro's bench coach. Cora was found to be deeply involved in that 2017 scandal, and according to the MLB investigation into the Astros, Cora developed that cheating system.

Because of that, like Watkins, he'll be suspended from baseball through the end of the 2020 postseason.

"As an organization, we strive for 100% compliance with the rules. MLB's investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means," Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy said in a statement.

Although baseball is on hold indefinitely due to the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, recently said he could see baseball returning sometime in the future, with serious social distancing.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hannah Hagemann is a 2019 Kroc Fellow. During her fellowship, she will work at NPR's National Desk and Weekend Edition.