DraftKings bettors lose appeal over Astros, Red Sox baseball sign-stealing

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros Workouts
FILE PHOTO: Oct 12, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; View of the Houston Astros team logo on the field during workouts at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

March 21, 2022

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday rejected an effort by DraftKings fantasy sports bettors to hold Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox liable for baseball’s electronic sign-stealing scandal.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said bettors could not plausibly claim they were defrauded by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s comments about the sport’s integrity, or the teams’ denials that they played dishonestly.

“This action is nothing more than claims brought by disgruntled fantasy sports participants, unhappy with the effect that cheating in MLB games may have had on their level of success in fantasy sports contests,” Circuit Judge Joseph Bianco wrote for a three-judge panel.

He said a contrary ruling in the proposed class action could open the door for unhappy bettors and ticketholders to sue whenever off-field surprises affect game outcomes.

“When it comes to sports competitions,” Bianco wrote, “the one thing that a spectator or consumer can expect is the unexpected.”

Lawyers for DraftKings bettors did not immediately respond to requests for comment. MLB, the Astros, the Red Sox and their lawyers did not immediately respond to similar requests or had no immediate comment.

In January 2020, MLB found that the Astros improperly used technology to steal signs from opposing pitchers and catchers in 2017 and 2018, and relayed them — sometimes by banging trash cans — to batters so they would know what pitches to expect.

That scandal clouded the Astros’ 2017 World Series title and cost Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow their jobs.

Manfred separately fined the Red Sox in September 2017 for using an Apple Watch to capture signs from the New York Yankees.

Hinch now manages the Detroit Tigers.

Monday’s decision upheld an April 2020 ruling by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan.

It also upheld Rakoff’s decision to unseal, over the Yankees’ privacy objections, an MLB letter discussing the Red Sox case and the Yankees’ improper use of a dugout phone, citing a later MLB press release containing much of that information.

The case is Olson et al v Major League Baseball et al, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Nos. 20-1831, 20-1841.

(The story has been refiled to correct location of the reporter in signoff, no change to content of story)

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; editing by Jonathan Oatis)