The Boston Red Sox became one of baseball’s more controversial teams this year when a report by The New York Times this week uncovered that they had been caught using Apple Watches to steal signs in a series against the New York Yankees earlier this season. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia weighed in yesterday and said that stealing signs was part of the game while downplaying the controversy surrounding his team.
“It’s part of the game,” Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “Our adjustment to that stuff is: Go out to the mound and change the signs.
“It’s been around a long, long time. We were doing that at Douglass Junior High School [in Woodland, California], where I played. So, I don’t think this should be news to everybody.”
I hate to say this as a die-hard New York Yankees fan, but Pedroia is absolutely right. Sign-stealing is part of the game and has been since before I and many of my fellow baseball fans were even born, but it is only allowed within reason.
Sign-stealing: a history
Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports penned an excellent article yesterday about the history of sign-stealing in baseball, going as far back as 1900 to an incident involving the Philadelphia Phillies. Passan described the tale of Phillies third base coach Pierce Chiles and how a Cincinnati Reds shortstop noticed the constant twitch of his leg came as a result of electrical impulses being sent to a wooden box buried underneath Chiles. Different pulses meant different pitches and Chiles would sign to the batter accordingly.
Another notable incident of alleged sign-stealing was in 1951 when New York Giants slugger Bobby Thomson hit a walk-off home run against the Brooklyn Dodgers to win his team the National League Pennant. The blast known as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was later mired in controversy, however, as multiple sources insisted that the Giants had been stealing signs not just in that game, but for most of the latter half of the season.
Those reports stated that the Giants used a telescope in their center-field clubhouse at the Polo Grounds to relay signs to hitters and baserunners, an allegation that could explain their closing out the ’51 season on a 37-7 run. Then again, such hot streaks have come in baseball without stealing signs, but enough people have come forward saying that the Giants did indeed steal signs, including Thomson himself!
That said, Pedroia is absolutely right. Sign-stealing has been part of the game for generations, so what’s the problem?
The Red Sox are wrong
There is one big problem. The Red Sox have been accused of using technology to steal signs, an activity they have subsequently accused the Yankees of doing via a stray YES Network TV camera.
Per MLB rules, stealing signs is fine so long as teams use nothing but their eyes in doing so. For example, if a runner on second base has an idea of the catcher’s signs and relays them via a sign to the dugout or another coach, that’s fine. The use of technology from Apple Watches to cameras to even simple binoculars, on the other hand, is strictly prohibited.
And Pedroia himself could be guilty in this regard too. The Yankees claim that video exists of him speaking to a trainer who received a message from inside the clubhouse on, you guessed it, an Apple Watch. Granted, Pedroia was on the disabled list for this particular series against New York and would have good reason to be speaking to a trainer, but the optics just aren’t good given the circumstances.
That all being said, Dustin Pedroia is absolutely right when saying that sign-stealing has been a part of baseball for a long time, and the fact that some teams do it is OK. The only problem is that when a team uses extended means to gain a clear advantage, as Boston was just busted doing, it becomes a problem and must be addressed accordingly.
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