The Trials of Rob Manfred

Manfred directed Dan Halem, his deputy and baseball’s chief legal officer, to reach out to Cora, said to be the mastermind of the scheme, and start gathering information. Cora, who left the Astros after 2017 to lead the Red Sox, was traveling in London at the time, however, and Halem had trouble contacting him beyond a brief phone call. Manfred worried that Cora was dodging them.

At the same time, Halem and M.L.B. investigators were getting no useful information from their attempts to speak to former Astros players and coaches. Frustrated at Cora’s inaccessibility and the inability to uncover any solid facts from uncooperative witnesses, Manfred said, he instructed Halem to ask the players’ union for assistance.

There is some dispute over whether M.L.B. first offered blanket immunity to the players or if the union insisted upon it, but Manfred knew he would have virtually no hope of making suspensions stick if the players appealed them, and he said that uncovering the truth was paramount.

“I know we would not even have known the facts here, and no one would have been disciplined, had we not proceeded the way we elected to proceed,” Manfred said.

Manfred also knew his credibility was on the line. In September 2017, after the Boston Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch in the dugout to relay signs, the commissioner sent a memorandum to the general managers of all 30 teams notifying them that they would personally be held responsible for similar incidents in the future.

Manfred did want to punish at least one Astros player: Beltran, who investigators had determined was central to the sign-stealing plot and who was later placed in a leadership role as manager of the Mets. But Halem convinced Manfred that Beltran, even though he had retired, was legally protected under the umbrella of immunity because he was a player at the time of the sign-stealing.

“His goal was not punishing people for doing it but making sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Orza, the former union official. “That goal overarched the other goal that would make people feel happy. People feel happy when players get punished. It makes them feel good.”