“Yankee letter” unsealed and findings show Illegal Use of Dugout Phone and Sign Decoding prior to September 2017

2017 letter from MLB to Yankees regarding rules violation unsealed
from MLB Trade Rumors, with Anthony Franco, and from YardBarker.com/www.yardbarker.com

In June 2020, a New York district court ordered Major League Baseball and the Yankees to unseal a letter sent by commissioner Rob Manfred to New York general manager Brian Cashman in 2017 regarding rules violations by the club from 2015-16. The Yankees appealed that ruling, but the appeal was rejected by the 2nd Circuit last week, as Evan Drellich of the Athletic reported on Thursday.

The contents of the so-called “Yankee letter” — which is expected to be officially unsealed later this week — were reported by Andy Martino of SNY Tuesday afternoon. The letter revealed that MLB determined the Yankees had used the video replay room to decode signs during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The letter also revealed the team occasionally improperly used the dugout phone to relay decoded signs from the replay room to the dugout. When New York had a runner on second base, that runner would pass along the forthcoming pitch type to the batter. (The Athletic had reported in January 2020 the Yankees had used the replay room to decode signs). Allegations by the Red Sox the Yankees were using cameras from the YES Network to steal signs were found unsubstantiated in Manfred’s letter.

Perhaps the most notable piece of new information from the release of the letter is that MLB fined the Yankees $100K for the misuse of the dugout phone. That the league had fined the Yankees was reported in September 2017, though the amount of the punishment was unknown until Tuesday.

All of the Yankees’ rules violations outlined in the letter occurred prior to September 15, 2017, when the league informed all 30 clubs it’d be cracking down on sign-stealing. That sets the Yankees’ violations apart from the Astros’ 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal (which was also far greater in scope than the league found the Yankees had orchestrated) and the Red Sox’s 2018 misuse of the video room.

The Yankees and MLB both released statements Tuesday afternoon (via Drellich) that delineated between pre-’09/’15/’17 violations and those that occurred after MLB announced its crackdown. As part of its statement, the league stated the Yankees “were fined for improper use of the dugout phone because the Replay Review Regulations prohibited the use of the replay phone to transmit any information other than whether to challenge a play. The Yankees did not violate MLB’s rules at the time governing sign stealing.”

The Yankees stated they fought against the publication of the commissioner’s letter in part “to prevent the incorrect equating of events that occurred before the establishment of the Commissioner’s sign-stealing rules with those that took place after. What should be made vibrantly clear is this: the fine noted in Major League Baseball’s letter was imposed before MLB’s new regulations and standards were issued.”

Fans figure to make their own judgments about the moral implications of the Yankees’ actions. Even if one feels that sign-stealing before the league’s crackdown was fair game, there’s no question the New York organization broke the league’s rules regarding the dugout phone when they used it to pass along signs from the replay room to on-field personnel. That said, nothing within the contents of the commissioner’s letter come as a surprise relative to what had already been reported. It’s clear from the league’s statement on the matter it considered the issue final after levying the fine five years ago, and there won’t be any further discipline.