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Fantasy baseball team owners sue MLB, Astros, Red Sox over sign-stealing

The Houston Astros' Jose Altuve is awarded the

The Houston Astros' Jose Altuve is awarded the American League Championship Series MVP trophy in October. The Astros were later fined $5 million for sign-stealing. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Owners of fantasy baseball teams are filing real-life lawsuits for millions of dollars against Major League Baseball, the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox.

The lawsuits blame baseball's sign-stealing scandal for distorting players' statistics on which the fantasy leagues' results are based.

Elliott Greenberg of Massapequa Park, a longtime fantasy team owner who is not a party to the lawsuits, called the episode "a black eye" for Major League Baseball.

The broker of fixed-income securities said he has been playing in fantasy leagues since 1987 and has been through earlier baseball scandals such as the period when some Major League players took steroids to boost their performances, but that the recent sign-stealing scandal touched players, managers and even general managers.

"This was apparently a much wider scope of cheating," he said. "The shame is that the players will get off scot-free."

An MLB spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Greenberg said team owners pay a roughly $300 entry fee in his two leagues on the CBS Sports platform and the winner gets about $1,600.

One lawsuit, filed Jan. 23 in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, seeks more than $5 million on behalf of a Massachusetts man who had a fantasy baseball team with Boston-based DraftKings Inc., a betting platform in which MLB has an ownership stake.

Another lawsuit, filed in the same court on Feb. 6 on behalf of a Florida resident, also seeks more than $5 million.

David S. Golub, the Stamford, Connecticut, attorney who filed the first lawsuit, said the cases likely would be consolidated.

The case was filed on behalf of a DraftKings client because that company has a legal relationship with MLB, which "provided corrupted information," said Golub, adding that it would be a "tougher case" to seek damages for participants in other fantasy leagues.

The status of  online daily fantasy sports betting in New York was thrown into legal limbo after the New York Supreme Court's appellate division ruled it unconstitutional on Thursday. In 2016, state legislators sought to circumvent the state constitution's curbs on gambling by classifying fantasy sports  betting as a game of skill.

Providers like DraftKings and FanDuel are expected to continue operations in New York pending a ruling by the New York Court of Appeals.

Wagering on professional and college games is legal only at licensed casinos upstate such as Resorts World Catskills in Monticello.

Another legal front in the sign-stealing imbroglio opened on Monday when former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against the Astros, charging that the team's sign stealing during a game in the 2017 season effectively cut short his career.

The scandal broke when The Athletic published a report about the Astros' electronic sign-stealing during their 2017 championship season, based on interviews with former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers.

That report prompted an investigation by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred detailing a scheme in which the Astros would use a centerfield camera to intercept and decipher the opposing catcher's pitch signs and alert batters to the upcoming pitches.

MLB fined the Astros $5 million, suspended manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow for one year and stripped the team's first- and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021.

The team then fired Hinch and Luhnow.

MLB reportedly granted immunity to players who testified truthfully and did not discipline any Astros players. 

MLB is expected to complete within days its investigation into sign stealing by the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2018.

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