HOUSTON (CN) – A Houston Astros fan filed a class action against the team Friday, claiming it overcharged him for season tickets for the 2017 through 2020 seasons because its players were secretly stealing pitch signs as confirmed by a Major League Baseball investigation.
Adam Wallach also seeks an injunction to stop the Astros from raising season-ticket prices for at least two years, because in addition to fining the club the maximum $5 million allowed under the MLB constitution for the sign-stealing scandal, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred stripped it of its top two picks for the 2020 and 2021 drafts.
The lawsuit in Harris County Court comes one day after the Astros opened their spring training camp in Florida with owner Jim Crane repeatedly promising in a press conference, “This will never happen again.”
But critics claim Crane’s contrition rang hollow because he also said he’s of the opinion the sign stealing “didn’t impact the game” in the Astros’ 2017 season in which they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games to win the World Series.
Manfred issued a bombshell report in January in which he said MLB investigators interviewed 68 witnesses, including 23 current and former Astros players, some of whom acknowledged that a monitor had been installed near their dugout at their home field Minute Maid Park, which displayed video from a camera mounted in centerfield.
Astros players watched the live feed of the other teams’ catchers signing to pitchers and banged on a trash can with a bat to tip off their teammates as to what pitch was coming, fastball or off-speed.
Los Angeles Dodgers star outfielder Cody Bellinger told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday he disagreed with Manfred giving Astros players immunity for cooperating with the investigation.
“Everyone knows they stole the ring from us,” he said.
Crane promptly fired Astros coach A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow in January after Manfred suspended them, barring them from working for any MLB team through the 2020 season.
Luhnow said in a statement following his firing that he knew nothing about the sign stealing.
“I am not a cheater. Anybody who has worked closely with me during my 32-year career inside and outside baseball can attest to my integrity. I did not know rules were being broken,” he said.
But in his lawsuit, Wallach cites a Feb. 7 Wall Street Journal article that claims the Astros’ director of team operations Derek Vigoa, then a front-office intern, gave Luhnow a power-point presentation in September 2016 about an algorithm that could decode catchers’ signs.
“It was called ‘Codebreaker.’ This was the beginning of what has turned into one of the biggest cheating scandals in American sports history,” the complaint states.
Citing the Wall Street Journal story, Wallach says that after Luhnow learned of the scheme, he would drop in on the Astros’ video room during road games and ask staff, “You guys codebreaking?”
Wallach says the Astros blatantly broke the rules because after the Boston Red Sox were caught using instant replay to decode signs and tipping people wearing smart watches in their dugout in August 2017, Manfred issued a decree banning the use of electronics to steal signs.
Suing on behalf of all people who bought Astros seasons tickets for the 2017 through 2020 seasons before Jan. 13, 2020, Wallach is demanding compensatory and treble damages for gross negligence, negligence, breach of contract, deceptive trade and unjust enrichment.
The Astros declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Wallach’s is the fifth lawsuit filed against the Astros over the scandal, according to Courthouse News Service’s database. He is represented by Mitchell Toups of Beaumont.
A fantasy baseball bettor brought a federal class action against Major League Baseball, the Astros and Red Sox last month, claiming the sign stealing had distorted players’ stats that fantasy players consult to pick their lineups.
Michael Bolsinger sued the Astros on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court. He claims the Astros derailed his goal of earning a permanent spot on the Toronto Blue Jays pitching rotation.
He says he made a relief appearance for the Blue Jays in an August 2017 game against the Astros and gave up four runs, after which he was demoted to the minor leagues and never returned to the major leagues.