We’ve all watched the sign stealing scandal surrounding the Astros and Red Sox unfold these past couple weeks. Three. managers and a GM have lost their jobs. Without apologizing for any of them, nor stating that they didn’t deserve the punishments and embarrassment they have received, it’s true that other teams have also used technology in sign stealing schemes.
Just recently Jack McDowell went on record that the White Sox had such a scheme in the 1980’s. He stated a coach would stay in the clubhouse, pick up the opponents’ signs watching the game on TV, and relay signals using a light on the scoreboard at Comiskey. He also stated the setup was in place and being used when he first got there, that it started prior to his arrival. Since he got to Chicago the season after manager Tony LaRussa departed, he stated it must have thus started on his watch. LaRussa took offense and denied it. However, Jack McDowell’s revelation was not actually new. In 2004, Tim Kurkjian wrote about that very sign stealing system by the White Sox (“Can you read the signs?” published at espn.com). The article did not specify who started the deal, but confirmed it was in the 1980’s. Presuming McDowell’s memory is correct that the scheme was in action when he first arrived, then it did indeed occur on LaRussa’s watch.
All the way back in 1900, Morgan Murphy, a back up catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, came up with a system to steal signs. He used opera glasses to watch opposing catchers from the clubhouse beyond the outfield wall. He had a telegraph wire run underground from there to the third base coaches box and a buzzer there to alert the coach. The coach in turn would relay the signal to the batter. The jig was up, though, after Tommy Corcoran (Reds shortstop acting as his team’s third base coach) happened to notice the wire. 1900 was also Murphy’s last season as a Phillie.
The 2017 Astros were not even the first pennant winners to have a sign stealing scheme. The 1951 NY Giants famously charged back from 13.5 games back to force a one game playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers…and the won the NL pennant with Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world.” (That makes at least 3 times the Dodgers have been victimized.) In 2002, it was revealed they had been stealing signs. The manager, Leo Durocher, had a coach use a telescope from the clubhouse beyond the centerfield wall at the Polo Grounds, and use an electric buzzer to signal the bullpen, from whence the signals would be relayed to the hitters.
Cheating in baseball is as old as baseball. It should come as no surprise. The desire to get an edge in a human fallibility, and athletes are of course very competitive. Throw in the money involved and the temptation to “go over the line” can be very powerful.
Those who have been punished for the more recent scandals deserved what they got. However, I can’t get too outraged.