Former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow deleted messages off his cell phone amid Major League Baseball's investigation into the team's sign-stealing scandal.
In an excerpt from his upcoming book Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess, The Athletic's Evan Drellich noted MLB believes Luhnow was the only person in the organization "who had deleted material off their phone after the time when the league had instructed Astros to preserve their phones" for information.
In February 2020, Jared Diamond of The Wall Street Journal reported details of a letter sent from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred to Luhnow about specific allegations uncovered in the investigation.
According to Drellich, Luhnow's deleted phone messages were not included in the details previously published.
"Your credibility is further impacted by the fact that you permanently deleted information from your phone and its backups in anticipation that my investigators would seek to search your phone," Manfred told Luhnow in the letter, via Drellich. "You did not tell my investigators that you had done this until they confronted you about it in your second interview. While you explained that you were simply deleting sensitive personal photographs, I have no way to confirm that you did not delete incriminating evidence."
Drellich noted that Luhnow went so far as to wipe "every back-up from his phone, besides one, and other data was missing as well."
MLB discovered the deleted information when investigators discovered his phone "had no standard call logs, even though Luhnow had known phone calls with (then-Astros manager) A.J. Hinch that should have been there."
The league's investigators were also unable to find email exchanges that should have been on his phone because they were found on the devices of other people.
In a statement to Drellich, Luhnow said he deleted images of his wife giving birth to the couple's son at her request and MLB "never identified a single text that suggested I had any involvement in the matter — and the League had plenty of texts to make its case."
Drellich and Ken Rosenthal wrote a story in November 2019 detailing the process that Houston went through in order to steal signs from opposing teams starting with the 2017 season:
"A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway."
"When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or offspeed pitch was coming."
MLB announced in January 2020 that Luhnow and Hinch were suspended without pay for the entire 2020 season, and the Astros forfeited their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 following the conclusion of the investigation.
The Astros fired Luhnow and Hinch in the wake of MLB's discipline. The team won the 2017 World Series, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.