Editor’s note: Story was updated Nov. 10 to include service of the lawsuit.
Former Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow claims the club “concocted grounds” for his dismissal in the aftermath of the team’s sign-stealing scandal “in order to save more than $22 million in guaranteed salary,” according to a lawsuit obtained by Front Office Sports.
The 17-page civil complaint was filed at District Clerk Harris County, Texas, on Nov. 9. Luhnow was fired by Astros owner Jim Crane after MLB released its findings from an investigation into the Astros’ use of live video and the banging of trash cans to alert batters of the next pitch during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Like Lunhow, then-Astros manager A.J. Hinch was suspended by MLB and fired by the team after the report’s release in January.
Luhnow’s lawyers put “investigation” in quotes nine times in the lawsuit.
“The MLB’s ‘investigation’ actually was a negotiated resolution between Astros’ owner Jim Crane and MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred that enabled the team to keep its World Series championship, went to great lengths to publicly exonerate Crane, and scapegoated Luhnow for a sign-stealing scandal that he had no knowledge of and played no part in,” the lawsuit alleged. “The sign‐stealing activities were not directed by the Astros’ front office.”
An MLB spokesperson declined to comment when reached by Front Office Sports. A message left with an Astros spokesperson was not immediately returned on Nov 9.
The Astros were served with the lawsuit on Nov. 10, according to court records.
The MLB report stated that Luhnow denied any knowledge of the sign stealing operation, which included the Astros’ playoff run in 2017 that culminated with a World Series title after they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games.
“Irrespective of Luhnow’s knowledge of his club’s violations of the rules, I will hold him personally accountable for the conduct of his club,” Manfred wrote in the report. “It is the job of the general manager to be aware of the activities of his staff and players, and to ensure that those activities comport with both standards of conduct set by club ownership and MLB rules.”
The Detroit Tigers hired Hinch on Oct. 30, minutes after his season-long suspension ended. Alex Cora, a former Astros bench coach, was also suspended for the 2020 season.
Cora was hired to manage the Boston Red Sox on Nov. 6.
Luhnow, who received the same ban, is not currently employed by an MLB club.
The Astros were fined $5 million — the max amount allowed under MLB bylaws — and lost four draft picks. No players were suspended as a result.
Lunhow claimed that he had conversations with Hinch after the Red Sox were caught using Apple Watches to steal signs in 2017. That incident led MLB to warn all clubs about the illegal use of technology to steal signs.
“Hinch assured Luhnow that the Astros were not using any technology in the dugout besides what MLB had approved,” the lawsuit reads. “Furthermore, Hinch mentioned nothing about electronic sign-stealing at the meeting. Importantly, Hinch later told the Commissioner that he failed to disclose to Luhnow that the Astros were using electronic equipment to steal, decode, and transmit signs during games.”
The lawsuit requested a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages. The lawsuit argues that the case should proceed and the claims shouldn’t be decided by arbitrator, which is specified in Lunhow’s contract.
“[Arbitration proceedings] would deprive Luhnow of the due process that is fundamental to the performance of any arbitration agreement,” the lawsuit reads. “For these reasons, the arbitration agreement cannot be enforced and the case is properly before this Court. Alternatively, the court should appoint a neutral arbitrator to resolve this dispute.”