PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The head of the M.L.B. players’ union said on Wednesday that the league had initially indicated that it did not intend to punish any Houston Astros players as a result of its investigation into their sign-stealing scheme, contradicting a claim by Commissioner Rob Manfred.
As players have reported to spring training this week, many have criticized the lack of punishment for members of the 2017 Astros team, which was found to have illegally stolen signs electronically on its way to a World Series title.
At a news conference in Arizona on Tuesday, Manfred tried to place some of the blame with the M.L.B. Players Association, saying that the league had originally requested to provide immunity to only a small group of Astros hitters in exchange for their cooperation with the investigation, but that the union had asked for immunity for all involved players.
“The union indicated to us that that would be a problem,” Manfred said. “We went back and suggested to them we would give them an initial list of people — players — that we would grant immunity to, preserving our ability to discipline other players. And the union came back and said that players would cooperate only if there was blanket immunity.”
But late Tuesday, the union pushed back against that characterization in a statement from Tony Clark, its executive director. “Any suggestion that the association failed to cooperate with the commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue,” the statement said.
M.L.B., the union’s statement said, had “said from the outset that it was not its intention to discipline players.”
Clark elaborated on that statement Wednesday morning at the Mets’ spring training facility. He said that M.L.B. had told the union on Nov. 13, the day after the Astros’ cheating scheme was revealed in a report in The Athletic, that the league would want to interview players as part of the investigation but that it had no intention of disciplining players.
Clark said that he had confirmed this again before the interviews with Astros players began.
“The conversations started with their lack of interest in disciplining players and our legal obligation to accept that,” Clark said. “Our role and our right and our responsibility in the conversation is protecting those rights of every player.”
“Our role is not to discipline players,” he said, adding later: “Any conversation about player discipline has to be very specific in respect to what is a violation and what isn’t.”
Clark said that he was not surprised that players around the major leagues were upset over the scandal. In his statement Tuesday night, he said that the union had discussed proposals with M.L.B. that could potentially allow for player discipline over issues like sign stealing.
But Clark added on Wednesday that players should remember the union defended the rights of every player, and that he was not going to apologize for doing so.
He also expressed hope that the players could use their anger to fuel conversations about the future of the sport. He met with Mets players for close to two hours on Wednesday, and he plans to have similar meetings with other teams throughout spring training.
“The focus now moving forward is: OK, so what does that look like?” Clark said. “I think everybody and every player that we talk to has no interest in what we’ve seen manifest itself here manifesting again.”
One solution, Clark said, might be to censor what in-game video teams are able to access by providing only certain views or angles, which would prevent teams from seeing opposing catchers’ signs.
Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, who is the team’s union representative, said it was important to take a measured approach to changes. Some players, he noted, like to go into the video room during games to look at their timing and swing, while other players, such as Conforto, avoid doing so.
“There’s a lot of talk about trying to find a common ground.” he said. “I think the attitude was to not overdo it and completely shut everything down.”
Conforto said the team was unified by the end of the meeting with Clark, and that they were focusing on protecting the game for future generations.
“The bottom line is: No matter what we do, we want an even playing field no matter what,” Conforto said. “The attitudes in here and around baseball, it’s clear that we didn’t feel like there was an even playing field.”