Boston's high-tech cheating is like sign-stealing on steroids.
by Buster Olney
posted Sep 7 2017 10:00AM
The New York Yankees suspected for weeks that the Boston Red Sox had illicitly stolen signs in some way because of the comfort in the swings of the Boston hitters. One of New York’s hard-throwing relievers would try an off-speed pitch, and time and again, it seemed that the Red Sox hitter at the plate would dial down and taken an aggressive, healthy hack -- as if the batter had been lucky and guessed right.
But it happened again. And again. And again.
So the Yankees searched for answers about how this might be taking place, and on the evening of Aug. 18, the Yankees’ staff discovered in video review what it determined to be incontrovertible evidence -- as first detailed in the New York Times on Tuesday afternoon. An assistant trainer received a message on his watch; the trainer informed a Red Sox player in the dugout; the player relayed that information to the runner at second base, indicating which pitch signal in the sequence of signs was real; the runner at second, instantly armed with the key to breaking the Yankees’ signal-calling code, could detail the identity of the forthcoming pitch for the hitter at the plate.
David Dombrowski, the president of Boston’s baseball operations, noted Tuesday that sign-stealing has been a part of the game for decades. But this was something different than the good ol’ fashion cat-and-mouse game between the pitcher and catcher and the baserunner at second base.
If what the Yankees believe to be true is fully verified by Major League Baseball, this was like sign-stealing on steroids -- using technology to accelerate the process of decoding catchers’ signs and giving the Red Sox a competitive advantage over teams that respected MLB’s no-technology rules. If what the Yankees believe to be true is verified, Boston hitters had advance knowledge of markedly more pitches they were about to see than their opponents, because members of the organization ignored MLB's guidelines.
It’s basically the same type of advantage a student would have over peers if he or she received the questions to a college exam before the test.
John Farrell refused to address the specifics of the Yankees' allegations. AP Photo/Steve Nesius
If Major League Baseball wants teams to take its no-technology rules seriously, it needs to come down hard on the Red Sox. If commissioner Rob Manfred lightly fines Boston, or renders some other toothless punishment, then he’ll essentially greenlight other teams to try to replicate the Red Sox crime -- and guarantee that a game he is trying to speed up will instead be even further bogged down by mound meetings and infield conferences, as teams combat an even more complicated version of sign-stealing.
If what the Yankees allege is verified, then what the Red Sox did was brazen, and continued even after the Yankees initially reached out to the commissioner’s office with an unofficial complaint.
The day after the Yankees identified the video evidence that they felt demonstrated Red Sox cheating, sources say, they reached out to the commissioner’s office and were informed that they would be contacted by Dombrowski. That did not happen. A Red Sox source maintained that nobody within the commissioner’s office reached out to Dombrowski at that time and that the Red Sox were told that Yankees GM Brian Cashman intended to call Dombrowski.
In that day’s game -- after the Yankees had first been in touch with MLB -- the Yankees again collected video of what they believed to be the same sequence of events:
Athletic trainer checks his watch; athletic trainer speaks to a player in the dugout; player in the dugout communicates with a runner at second; and with the clear view of the catcher, the runner decodes the signals for the batter and relays that information to the hitter.
When the Yankees front office had still not heard from Dombrowski by Aug. 23, four days after their initial contact with MLB, it filed a formal complaint, along with the video evidence.
On Tuesday, neither Dombrowski nor John Farrell addressed the specifics of what the Yankees alleged. But the Red Sox did file their version of a countersuit against the Yankees with MLB, suggesting that the Yankees have been using a YES Network camera to steal signs. Yankees manager Joe Girardi dismissed that possibility, and if MLB finds no credibility to the Red Sox allegation, that should be a factor in determining a penalty against Boston.
Because that will mean that given the choice between being accountable and acknowledging a transgression -- a clear violation of a written rule -- the Red Sox instead tried to obfuscate, to muddy the conversation about sign-stealing. Everybody’s doing it is not an acceptable response because, quite frankly, not everybody’s doing it -- and certainly not in the manner the Red Sox were.