The long-awaited investigative report into alleged electronic sign-stealing by the 2018 Boston Red Sox — with its tantalizing potential to humiliate a second straight World Series champion — instead arrived Wednesday with a fizzle, as the bulk of the blame was placed on a video replay operator, and the team escaped the same, stringent punishment handed to the 2017 Houston Astros.

The Red Sox were docked a second-round draft pick in 2020, and the replay operator, J.T. Watkins, was suspended for a year. Alex Cora, the Red Sox’s manager in 2018, was also suspended for 2020, but only for his role as the 2017 Astros’ bench coach; the Red Sox parted ways with Cora in January following the Astros revelations.

The findings, released Wednesday afternoon in a statement from Commissioner Rob Manfred, explicitly contrasted the Red Sox’s limited violations — in which Watkins used in-game feeds in the video replay room to decode signs and “supplement” the information he gave players before games — to the wider, more complex scheme perpetrated by the 2017 Astros, saying the Red Sox violations were “episodic” and “isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.”

Cora, the Red Sox’s coaching staff and front office and the majority of players were not aware of the matter, according to Manfred.

“No other member of the 2018 Red Sox staff will be disciplined because I do not find that anyone was aware of or should have been aware of Watkins’s conduct,” the report said. The Red Sox’s front office “took more than reasonable steps to ensure that its employees, including Watkins, adhered to the rules. Notwithstanding these good faith efforts to comply with the rules, however, the Red Sox organization ultimately is responsible for the conduct of a member of its advance scouting staff.”

Additionally, unlike the 2017 Astros, who were found to have perpetuated the scheme in the postseason, Manfred’s report found no evidence Boston’s violations continued into the postseason.

Despite the less-than-explosive revelations Wednesday, the announcement nonetheless means two straight World Series champions were found to have broken the sport’s rules — to vastly varying degrees — during their marches to the title. The Red Sox won a franchise-record 108 regular season games in 2018 and went 11-3 in the postseason, winning the World Series in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“As an organization we strive for 100% compliance with the rules,” the Red Sox said in a statement. “MLB’s investigation concluded that in isolated instances during the 2018 regular season, sign sequences were decoded through the use of live game video rather than through permissible means. MLB acknowledged the front office’s extensive efforts to communicate and enforce the rules and concluded that Alex Cora, the coaching staff, and most of the players did not engage in, nor were they aware of, any violations. Regardless, these rule violations are unacceptable. We apologize to our fans and Major League Baseball, and accept the Commissioner’s ruling.”

MLB investigators interviewed 34 current or former Red Sox players — among 65 total witnesses — granting immunity to players in exchange for honest testimony, as the league did with the 2017 Astros. Notably, however, Manfred added, “This is not a case in which I would have otherwise considered imposing discipline on players.”

Some players, the report said, “may have suspected that Watkins was using the replay system improperly, but they did not know that with certainty. Others had no idea how Watkins obtained the sign information.”

Manfred cited the Red Sox’s “good faith and emphatic efforts to ensure compliance with MLB rules among staff certainly” as a “strong mitigating factor” in determining the level of his discipline.

While the lengthy investigation into the Red Sox — which itself grew out of the prior investigation of the Astros — led to widespread speculation this would be a repeat of the bombshell report that tarnished the Astros’ 2017 World Series title and dominated headlines over the offseason, both the circumstances and the punishments this time were vastly different.

The Astros were found to have both stolen (via a camera in center field) and transmitted to their hitters (via coded bangs on a trash can near the dugout) the signs of opposing catchers, in a scheme that used for the bulk of the 2017 season.

As punishment, the Astros were fined $5 million and docked four premium draft picks in 2020 and 2021, while manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were each suspended for a year; they were subsequently fired by the team.

It is legal in baseball to use video to decode the signs of opposing catchers before or after games, and develop signals for a runner on second base to tip off the hitter. But Watkins, the report found, “on at least some occasions utilized the game feeds in the replay room to supplement and revise sign sequence information that he had provided to players before the game” — which is illegal.

“The information was only relevant in circumstances when the Red Sox had a runner on second base,” which leaguewide accounted for 19.7 percent of plate appearances in 2018, the report found, “and Watkins communicated sign sequences evidently decoded from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences,” the report found.

The Red Sox’s violations amount to a second offense, after the team was found to have used a smartwatch to signal signs to hitters in 2017. Watkins, according to Manfred’s report, was also a “key participant” in that scheme — a factor Manfred took that into consideration in determining the appropriate discipline.


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