At long last, the infamous letter that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred sent to Yankees’ general manager was revealed. Not because it was unsealed just yet, but instead, SNY’s Andy Martino obtained a copy and wrote an article about it.
As Martino says, the Yankees did get caught stealing signs. It happened in 2015 and during the first half of the 2016 campaign, though it wasn’t a complex scheme as the one put in place by the Houston Astros in 2017. The Yankees took advantage of the video replay room in 2015 and 2016 “to decode sign sequences and pass them to a runner on second base, who would then relay them to the batter,” per Martino. It turned out to not be a cure-all for the team’s holes at the time, as they nearly squandered away a playoff spot late in 2015 only to lose to Houston in the AL Wild Card Game, and then played so poorly through July 2016 that they sold at the trade deadline for the first time in decades.
The Yankees were ultimately fined $100,000 for this offence, but weren’t accused of any sign-stealing during the 2017 season, when the Astros used center field cameras to obtain opposing catchers’ signs, and then relayed this information in real-time to their hitters by banging trash cans. The letter actually says that the league found some evidence of the Yankees using the video replay room cameras to steal signs while they were investigating the Boston Red Sox for partaking in a like-minded strategy.
Per the letter, “the Yankees used a similar scheme to that of the Red Sox to decode opposing Clubs’ signs and relay them to the batter when a runner was on second base,” and “provided information about opposing Club’s signs to players and members of the coaching staff in the replay room at Yankee Stadium, who then physically relayed the information to the Yankees’ dugout.”
The Yankees did this on the road, too, though not for every game or stadium. Additionally, “in certain stadiums on the road where the video room was not proximate to the dugout, (they) used the phone line in the replay room to orally provide real-time information about opposing Club’s signs to Yankee coaches on the bench.”
In reality, what the Yankees (and Red Sox, for that matter) did was not that uncommon at the time. It was still a violation of the rules (which is why it earned the team a fine), but as MLB insider Jeff Passan of ESPN notes, multiple teams were doing it.
The infamous Yankees Letter ... is pretty much a nothing-burger. Says the Yankees used their replay room to decode catchers' signs and relay them to runners on second -- which multiple teams were doing. Does not find they were illicitly using CF camera. @martinonyc had it first.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) April 26, 2022
Passan also said that “the Yankees (and Red Sox) were illegally using the replay room to steal signs, but neither scheme was anything close to what the Astros were doing with trash cans. Other teams were very likely doing similar things to New York and Boston. That element spanned the game.”
The use of the center field camera, and the real-time nature of their scheme were aggravating factors in the specific case of the Astros, not to mention the fact that their sign-stealing continued well after the commissioner officially urged the league to stop in mid-September 2017 (and in the postseason). That’s not to excuse the Yankees for what they did — it’s merely distinguishing the differences.
At the end of the day, it’s somewhat understandable why the Yankees tried to protect the contents of the letter for so long since it does provide confirmation of their past malfeasances. Just like the Astros and Red Sox, the Yankees now have an official sign-stealing penalty on the record and will have to deal with the public response to it. However, the letter’s actual content doesn’t really prove they were putting together a complex sign-stealing scheme or doing anything all that different from many other teams in baseball.