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The Houston Astros' Legal Mess: A Summary

3d rendering of baseball and baseball glove lying on sounding block with judge gavel beside on light-blue background. Baseball player in trouble. Decide future of baseball. Sport law cases.
By Richard Dahl on February 26, 2020 12:14 PM

It's become difficult to keep track of all the lawsuits that are landing on the Houston Astros' desk these days. At last count, there were five.

The Astros, as you may or may not recall, are a major-league baseball team that is in very hot water for cheating. Major League Baseball has already heavily penalized the team for a scheme involving video cameras relaying opposing catchers' pitch selection signs to Astros' batters, giving them an unfair advantage.

In January, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred handed down a $5 million fine plus an order that the team lose its first- and second-round draft picks for 2020 and 2021. Given the fact that Astros owner Jim Crane responded by firing manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, it looks like the team has more or less admitted guilt.

But it also looks like the legal fallout from their cheating has just begun.

Fantasy Sports, Ticket Holders and a Former Player

The first action, in late January, was a class-action lawsuit filed by a Massachusetts man, Kristopher Olson, who claimed that the cheating affected his and others' potential winnings as participants in a fantasy baseball league. As members of DraftKings Fantasy Sports, they pay money to participate and hope for winnings based on the performance of individually selected players.

In particular, the performances of pitchers who face the Astros were affected by the cheating.

And that explains the second lawsuit. In early February, former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger filed suit, arguing that a poor outing against the cheating Astro batters derailed his career, costing him a significant amount of future income.

The next wave of lawsuits were from the fans themselves: three separate class-action lawsuits by ticket holders who claim they were defrauded by the cheating.

Basically, the lawsuits on behalf of fans make this argument: Fans buy tickets based on the expectation that they will witness a game played on a level playing field. Among other allegations, they're saying the Astros have committed breach of contract.

Lawsuits Are 'A Complicated Mess'

It's hard to predict how these lawsuits will fare.

Talmadge Boston, a Dallas attorney who has written two books on baseball history, told Texas Sports Nation that the Astros are facing a "complicated mess."

Previous lawsuits against teams by fans have never made it to trial. One of the better known of these efforts was a lawsuit against the New England Patriots football team by a New York Jets season ticket holder following the so-called "Spygate" scandal. The plaintiff, Carl Mayer argued that the Patriots' alleged illegal videotaping "violated the contractual expectations" of fans who assumed that a Jets-Patriots game "would be an honest match." A federal judge and federal appeals court, however, said no such contractual expectation exists.

But Boston, the Dallas attorney, believes the facts in the Houston case are compelling enough that a jury could decide.

Meanwhile, there's no reason to believe we've seen the end of the lawsuits.

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