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.
6 thoughts on “Phillies, Giants, and White Sox All Used Technology to Steal Signs!”
I admit to being an idealist and purist about the game. I believe in winning because you played better ball than the other team — not rougher ball, or sneakier ball, or by gaming the rules. That’s the ultimate in sportsmanship. So, I’m opposed to cheating. However, the notion that the use of technology to steal signs is where they draw the line seems arbitrary and illogical to me. I can see that it definitely enhances home field advantage in an inorganic way, and that’s unacceptable and unsportsmanlike,. And I suppose that the reasoning is that sign stealing on the field is of a different sort than that involving those off the field. But, it still seems weird to me to be okay with player cheating but not staff cheating. Also, if the players are cheating, they should be honest about sign-stealing being part of their strategy and not mock or demean people who rightly call them out on it. Let’s just all be honest about how the game is played. It doesn’t detract from a well-caught ball at the fence or an immaculate cutter or a long ball blasting into the upper decks. We can always be amazed at the execution even if we know there are antics afoot.
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I agree with you.
I don’t have any sympathy for those who have been embarrassed or even lost their jobs over this. (Well, a little for AJ Hinch, but he should have done more than vandalizing the equipment the cheaters used.)
However, there is a segment of society…and it includes members of the media…who look for what the worst punishment can be meted out for any particular offense and immediately think we should go there. They act like this has never happened before, and want to pull out the pitch forks, tar, and feathers. That’s where I felt compelled to pull out these examples to try to provide some perspective.
I actually think Manfred got this one right.
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I feel that way too, but I am concerned about how he threw Fiers under the bus to justify acting. Let’s be clear: there were allegations of sign stealing before Fiers’ interview and MANFRED FAILED TO ACT THEN — instead, he only investigated after Fiers went on record. Manfred was slow to act and then reshaped the narrative to blame Fiers. Not cool. He better make sure Fiers doesn’t see retribution.
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Totally agree re: Fiers too.
It was galling hearing Jessica Mendoza and others excoriate him for “violating the sanctity of the clubhouse” or some such crap.
Off topic, but leaving this here hoping Prof sees it.
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Don’t let anyone kid you. MLB doesn’t give two poops about cheating. The only thing they care about was the publicity of it all. They are happy with people doctoring balls, using steroids, or other chemical substances, stealing signs, throwing baseballs at other people’s heads, juicing the baseball, configuring the field and stadium to benefit one particular team, team’s financial disparity, teams intentionally tanking to save money, fan safety, or many, many other infractions they could easily stop to ensure a fair playing field. I still personally think they partially like it because it’s exciting and gets people watching and talking about baseball. If MLB wanted to stop this, they would do so in a heartbeat. They went out of their way to ensure that the predetermined punishment was met, which meant that all players missed zero game time, because that might hurt their bottom line. The don’t care about the integrity of the game, they only care about public opinion causing them to lose money. It’s why a pitcher gets no punishment for saying the ball “slipped” but when they admit they threw at a guy, they throw the book at him.
I’d also like to know why the season is about to begin and they have yet to even mention the Red Sox’s punishment. Did firing Cora cause MLB to forget? Have they investigated anyone else? There’s allegations circling around the Yankees, Dodgers, Brewers, Indians, and several other teams. MLB seems content to bury their heads in the sand and hope it all passes. The Astros simply got caught because a player talked, and YouTube videos provided evidence.
If I’m a player, the lesson I’m taking away from MLB’s past history is cheat away. Just don’t get publicly caught and you’re fine.
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