Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred finally released his findings into the 2018 Red Sox and the club’s “improper use of the video replay room” on Wednesday, and fall guy or not, Red Sox video replay coordinator J.T. Watkins took most of the blame for what went down two years ago.
Watkins’ name is mentioned approximately 125 times in the commissioner’s 15-page report, starting with the following statement:
“I find that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least
some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the
replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information
that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.”
Listed in the Sox’ media guide as the team’s advance scouting assistant, Watkins first joined the organization in 2012 as a 10th-round draft pick out of West Point.
An Alabama-born first baseman, Watkins, now 30 years old, retired from baseball in November 2016 after three minor-league seasons (he missed the 2013 and 2014 seasons while serving in the military for two years) and transitioned into a role with Boston’s advance scouting staff that winter.
A little more than three years after being offered that position, Watkins will be suspended without pay for the 2020 regular and postseason and will not be able to retain his role as replay room operator until the conclusion of the 2021 postseason.
Along with former manager Alex Cora, who was handed down a one-year ban for what he did as Astros bench coach in 2017, Watkins was the only Red Sox employee, player or staff, to be disciplined by Manfred.
Per the commissioner’s report, Watkins “was responsible for attempting to decode an opposing team’s sign sequences prior to and after the completion of the game, which was (and is) permissible under the rules. Watkins conveyed the sign sequence information he learned from his pregame work to players in a meeting prior to the game, or sometimes during the game. The issue in this case stems from the fact that Watkins—the employee responsible for decoding an opponent’s signs prior to and following the game—also was the person stationed in the replay room during the game to advise the Manager on whether to challenge a play on the field. (It was not uncommon for those two roles to be combined in this manner by Clubs in 2018). Therefore, Watkins, who was an expert at decoding sign sequences from video, had access to a live feed during the game that he could have—if he so chose—used to supplement or update the work he had performed prior to the game to decode an opponent’s signs.”
There’s a lot to digest in the report, which you can read in full here, but I did find it interesting that, “Of the 44 players who provided information, more than 30 stated that they had no knowledge regarding whether Watkins used in-game video feeds to revise his advance sign decoding work. However, a smaller number of players said that on at least some occasions, they suspected or had indications that Watkins may have revised the sign sequence information that he had provided to players prior to the game through his review of the game feed in the replay room.”
Despite losing Watkins as video replay coordinator for the next two seasons, it is fair to say that the Red Sox got off lightly here. So much so that Alex Cora will probably be back as manager in 2021.
All in all, it’s just nice to say that after three-plus months of speculation and waiting, it’s nice to say that this league-led investigation into the Red Sox is, at least to my knowledge, complete. They were punished for their actions, now it’s time to move on.