Legendary baseball player Hank Aaron is speaking out about the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
In an interview with Today Thursday morning, Aaron — who recently celebrated his 86th birthday — said he was “surprised” when he learned about the scandal, which culminated in the Astros firing two top officials following an investigation by Major League Baseball into claims the team illegally stole pitching signs during a season that ended in a championship.
When asked if he thought the “punishment fit the crime,” Aaron responded: “No, I don’t. I think whoever did that should be out of baseball the rest of their life.”
Last month, the Astros fired general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch after the league confirmed the team used cameras to steal pitching signs during the 2017 season. While the MLB suspended both Luhnow and Hinch for 2020, Astros owner Jim Crane opted to go a step further in firing them both.
“Neither one of them started this, but neither one of them did anything about it,” Crane said at the time, according to ESPN. “We need to move forward with a clean slate.”
The Astros also received a $5 million fine and will lose their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021 as part of their punishment.
Stealing signs has long been a part of baseball, and the practice typically involves a team watching the hand signs used by an opposing team, such as those between a catcher and a pitcher. If a team can interpret what those signs mean, it can give them an advantage when their batter is at the plate. However, it is prohibited to use electronic equipment like cameras to help steal signs.
During the Today interview, Aaron joked that sign-stealing happened when he was playing baseball, but “they didn’t steal them that way!”
On Wednesday, Aaron celebrated his 86th birthday with tributes from the sports community honoring him for being both an iconic athlete and pioneer for African Americans in the league.
The MLB legend played for the Milwaukee Braves — which later became the Atlanta Braves — until his retirement in 1976, and was later inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The organization celebrated the athlete on Wednesday with a sweet birthday tribute.
“A very happy birthday to Hall of Famer and baseball legend Hank Aaron!” the caption read along with a video of Aaron scoring a run. “Did you know that if you take away all of Hank’s 755 home runs, he still has more than 3,000 career hits?”
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