HOUSTON – Former Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow spoke exclusively with KPRC 2 to share his side of the Astros cheating scandal. It was the first time he’s did a sit-down interview about the incident since being fired.
Luhnow has claimed from the beginning that he didn’t know the Astros were cheating.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the interview and Luhnow’s responses.
1. Luhnow was able to gather evidence he says supports his claim
“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.
"The texts and the documents are all part of the investigation. So Major League Baseball had all of it. The Astros have all of it. And, like I said, it’s all there in black and white, pretty clear, when you read through those text messages. And, I’m talking about the video decoding scheme, I’m not talking about the trash can banging scheme. Two separate things. But it’s pretty clear who was involved in the video decoding scheme, when it started, how often it happened, and basically when it ended. And it’s also pretty clear who was not involved. And I don’t know why that information, that evidence, wasn’t discussed in the ruling, wasn’t used. The people who were involved that didn’t leave naturally to go to other teams are all still employed by the Astros.
“In fact, one of the people who was intimately involved, I had demoted from a position in the clubhouse to a position somewhere else, and after I was fired he was promoted back into the clubhouse. So none of those people faced any repercussions. They weren’t discussed in the report, but the evidence is all there that they were involved.”
2. The timeline of the Astros cheating
"It’s pretty clear that the group, the cabal if you want to call it, of people in the video room (were) aligned with the coaches who were executing the video decoding scheme, that they started thinking about it towards the end of 2016. And then really about May of 2017 is when you start to see evidence of execution. And they weren’t hiding it in terms of their discussions with one another.
“It was pretty blatant. They were assigning duties, ‘Who’s on codebreaker duty tonight.’ They were text messaging signs to a coach who would be in the dugout so that he could communicate the signs to the runner at second. And it went on for all of 2017, and it went on for a portion of 2018. Like I said, I argued for and voted for enforcement from MLB so there was a security agent in the dugout and in the clubhouse in 2018, but they weren’t there full time, so it was a little more hit and miss in terms of when you would see evidence of it in ’18, but it did happen in ’18. It probably stopped around mid-summer ’18, and then there’s absolutely no evidence of it going on after that. But the reality is, the Astros cheated in 2017, and cheated a little bit again in 2018 using just the decoder method, and it was wrong, and it should never have happened, and I’m upset. I’m really upset that it happened. I’m upset for our fans, I’m upset for players on other teams that gave up hits as a result of this that should never have happened. If we won games because of it, it should never have happened, and we didn’t need to do it. We had a great team. The team we put together in 2017, a lot of which is still together today is one of the best teams of the 21st century, and has had an incredible stretch. And there’s no reason why we needed to explore breaking the rules to gain an advantage, it made no sense to me.”
3. Luhnow opens up about Brandon Taubman incident
“I was so disappointed that that happened. That should never have happened, first of all. But I was actually more disappointed in how the Astros reacted to that. The night that the organization found out that this was going to be a story, there were several people actively conversing about what to do about it. Now, you probably know this as a reporter, but as a General Manager, I don’t write press releases. I see them before they go out if they have to do with baseball operations and I’ll approve a quote if it’s supposedly my words, but even my quotes are written by someone else. This particular response was crafted, edited, and written by the person that runs the legal operation for the Astros, and the person that runs the marketing and PR for the Astros. Those two wrote it, edited it, and sent it out. Now, they did syndicate it… when I say syndicate it, there were other people copied on the email traffic that evening.
“Nobody said, ‘Don’t send this out.’ I should’ve said that, and I feel bad that I didn’t, because my gut was telling me this was probably not the right reaction. Even though everybody in that group believed that the incident was innocent, which it turned out not to be, it still didn’t feel like the right reaction because it was so aggressive. At one point I objected to it, not as vociferously as I wish I would have. My objection was ignored. And 20 minutes later the response was sent out. It was very clear, immediately after the response was sent out, that it was horrifically wrong. And it made us look terrible. Nobody wanted to take responsibility for that response. Two days later, we’re in Washington D.C. and that morning I had fired Brandon, and I was asked if I would talk to the media about firing Brandon. I agreed to do it, no one else was willing to do it. About 20 seconds before I walked into a room filled with baseball reporters who were all looking to attack somebody, I was instructed by one of the people that wrote the response not to disclose who wrote it, and to make everybody understand it was an Astros response, but not to talk about the people who were involved. I followed those instructions. I sat there for 20 minutes and was attacked by every media outlet in the country and I know I didn’t handle it as well as I could have, but I didn’t want to lie, so I told them I had seen the response before it went out. Which, essentially made me the face of the response because no one else was willing to face the music. When that interview was over, I received a text message from the other person who had been involved in writing it and crafting it thanking me for, ‘taking one for the team.’ I shouldn’t have taken one for the team. I didn’t write that response. 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.”
4. His biggest regrets
"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.
“My other regret, quite frankly, was that I looked forward to and enjoyed the challenge of taking a terrible organization and turning it into a dominant organization, a dominant team. I was looking forward to the challenge of keeping the team dominant over an extended period of time. It’s been six years of really really good baseball in Houston and that’s been wonderful for our fans and our city. I was looking forward to, how do we take that six and turn it into 12?”
5. He’s still rooting for the Astros
“You develop strong relationships with players over the course of time, and I’ve seen these players go from undrafted to drafted to joining our minor leagues to getting to the big leagues to winning a World Series. I feel very close to them and some of the coaches and some of the people in the front office, and absolutely I root for the Astros. It was tough seeing the struggles this year during the regular season, especially with Altuve, I could it was weighing on him so much. But as soon as the postseason started, all that experience kicked in, and they figured out how to be the team that they have been for the past six years and it was really, really fun to watch, and yeah, I cheer loudly for them, I always will, and I will always cherish the memories that we created.”