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Rob Manfred defends decision to not punish Astros players

Commissioner says trade-off was necessary to make sure the league ended up with the facts.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred pauses before answering a question about the Houston Astros, during a news conference at the Atlanta Braves' spring training facility Sunday in North Port. [CURTIS COMPTON  |  AP]
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred pauses before answering a question about the Houston Astros, during a news conference at the Atlanta Braves' spring training facility Sunday in North Port. [CURTIS COMPTON | AP]

NORTH PORT — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred defended his decision to not discipline Astros players in the cheating scandal, saying offering immunity was necessary to get information on the sign-stealing scheme.

Manfred said it was most important to get the facts so they could “figure out what was going on," though he indicated that didn’t mean he wouldn’t have been open to doing it differently.

He said the “worst possible outcome” would have been to investigate and not uncover the plan: “People had a right to know what happened, and we did achieve that goal."

He said later if they could have gotten the information otherwise and had the opportunity to discipline players they would have, might have done so and may in the future.

Related: Rob Manfred: Rays’ Montreal plan legitimate, gaining momentum

He also said criticism that the Astros players weren’t disciplined isn’t fair as it is clear from watching them do interviews “they have been hurt by this, they will live with questions about what went on in 2017-18 for the rest of their lives, and, frankly, it’s rare for any offense that you have a punishment you will live with for the rest of your life.”

Further, he noted that not many punishments for any transgressions last a lifetime.

Manfred said there was an extensive amount of discussion about stripping the Astros of their 2017 championship but precedent, past and future, weighed heavily.

"First, it had never happened in baseball, and I’m a precedent guy,” Manfred said. “Second, I believe the most fundamental obligation was to get the facts, put them out there and let people make their own judgment as to what happened in the 2017 season and playoffs.

“Whether or not you put an asterisk next to it or ask for the trophy back, I don’t think it makes that much difference. Once you go down that road of changing what happens on the field, I just don’t know how you decide where to stop.”

Related: Ex-Ray Alex Cobb: ‘Zero respect’ for Astros involved in sign-stealing scandal

He also explained why MLB concluded, despite rampant speculation and apparent video evidence, the Astros didn’t continue to cheat by wearing buzzers or other such devices last season. In short, that the players were “candid” and “consistent” about breaking the rules in 2017-18 and were “equally consistent” about denying the buzzer allegations.

Also, Manfred said:

* The ongoing investigation into the Red Sox should be completed by the end of the month as recent developments required some people to be re-interviewed.

* Rules will be changed for 2020, with union approval, to place “really serious restrictions on player and playing personnel access to video in-game."

* He warned managers that hitting batters in retaliation would not be tolerated. “I made it extremely clear to them that retaliation in-game by throwing at a batter intentionally will not be tolerated, whether it’s Houston or anybody else,” he said. “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.”

* They have talked internally about expanding the playoffs but “no decisions have been made."

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