Wednesday, September 6, 2017

On stealing signs

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Red Sox have admitted using the replay system and an Apple Watch to steal the catcher's signals.

Sign stealing has been around about as long as there have been signs to steal, of course, and skill at decoding the opposition's semiphores is highly valued. But the use of high tech is verboten and, at least nominally, novel. It's all supposed to be done with the naked eye and the purloiner's own signal.

I do not take seriously the Red Sox assertion that nobody in management knew of the scheme, in which the team employee monitoring the game to help decide whether to challenge a umpire's call would pick up the catcher's signals and message a team trainer via the Apple Watch. That trainer would relay the information to players in the dugout, who would then signal to their teammates. It all sounds too complex for a competent manager to be unaware of it.

The Yankees picked up on it, of course, because they monitor the opposition dugout themselves looking for signals.

The traditional way of handling such things, of course, is to false flag the sign stealers. Entice them into certainty that the next pitch will be a breaking ball low and away and buzz the hitter with a fastball. (Legend has it that Joe DiMaggio once threatened the health of a Yankee coach who got thus crossed up.) The Yanks instead submitted their evidence to the commissioner's office.

We'll see how heavily Rob Manfred comes down on the Bosox. As with the hacking case involving the St. Louis Cardinals raiding the Houston Astros' scouting data base, MLB's internal politics are involved here. In this case, the Red Sox ownership was prominently opposed to elevating Manfred to the commissionership. (In the hacking case, the Cardinals ownership was a prominent Manfred ally.)

Joe Girardi, Yankee manager and control freak, thinks this incident is a great reason to install radio headsets for pitch selection. I would rather see the end of waiting for the video room to report to the manager up or down on a challenge. Make the manager decide based on what he saw.

As for a punishment for the Red Sox, since this involved misusing the replay system, I suggest taking it away from them for the postseason. That would be a rather effective deterrent.

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