The “Art” of Sign Stealing

The “Art” of Sign Stealing

Finger to the nose, then the cap, then the ear, and a swift swipe down the arm. Other hand up to the cap, down to the wrist, back to the nose, and across the chest.

No, this isn’t some new dance craze. Rather, it’s something any ballplayer has seen time and time again as they are about to step in the box; any pitcher has seen waiting for the batter to take his place, any base runner wondering if they’re going to try and swipe that next bag on the pitch, and any other player or coach trying to catch some kind of advantage they can by deciding what it all means.

The art of sign stealing is nothing new to the sport of baseball. But at what point does it cross the line?

For as long as I can remember playing and coaching baseball, I would try and “steal signs.” Hey, if they were stupid enough not to hide what they were doing, why should I pretend like I don’t know? Whether I was on second base, looking in on a catcher putting down two fingers and then relaying that pitch to my teammate (I used open hands to signal fastballs and closed hands to signal off-speed), a third base coach watching a catcher drop his fingers below his knees so I could see the pitch (we used last names to signal off-speed), or if I channeled some inner Sherlock Holmes and decoded what the other team was signaling each other, I thought nothing of what I was doing was wrong.

Why? Wasn’t I cheating in some way? Wasn’t I tainting the game?

Two words……absolutely not.

Like not crossing the pitcher’s mound, the beanball, not talking about the no-hitter, or not making the first out at third it has always been one of the unwritten rules of the game. Hide your signs. Change them up. Don’t let the other team catch on. As a catcher, I remember having to do many different things just to throw off any would-be thieves. We would change if the pitch we wanted was second or third in the order I put down, how many times I wiggled 4, we even had to go through sequences where I’d put down a set of numbers and then go through a set of signs pertaining to my mask, chest protector and shin guards. WHATEVER we had to do to mix it up and not tip anything off. But why? Because it’s PART OF THE GAME!!

But, at what point does it cross the line?

For years and years, players have used video to gain advantages. One of my idols (and when I say idols I don’t mean it lightly – my son’s middle names are Anthony Keith) the late great Tony Gwynn, was one of the first baseball players that used video to study what pitchers were doing, what his own approach looked like, and how to go about making his next at-bat the best it could be. He did this back in the ’90s, the VCR era, 30 years ago. Video is nothing new to the landscape of baseball.

Video and baseball now go hand-in-hand. We get to see in real-time the computer-generated trajectory of baseballs during a home run derby, the K zones when we watch on TV, helmet cameras from the catchers, and instant replay of all the missed called that umpires make (there has even been talk of electronic strike zones without umpires). Video isn’t a bad thing at all. We get to connect with the game on an exciting level that wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for those cameras. It’s an exciting time to enjoy this game.

But, at what point does it cross the line?

Simply. 2017, with the Houston Astros.

We all (except for those in New England) have despised the Patriots for their antics in using video to gain an advantage. Spy-Gate swept over the nation like a plague of disgust for one franchise. Well, you have now done them one better. They broke the rules by simply taping from the wrong place. It wasn’t an NFL rule that you couldn’t video the other team, you just had to stand in the right place to do it. The MLB warned you not to use electronics to steal signs, but you disregarded their expectations and made your choice. I hope that the fans of this great game now make their choice and show you the same disdain that those fans of the NFL have shown the Patriots.

I can remember back to those series. I was in your corner. You defeated the two teams that I despise the most, the Yankees (yes, it was still strike 3 to Tino in the 7th inning of the 1998 World Series) and the Boys in Blue from up the road of my hometown – The Dodgers. Two amazing series. Two game 7s. One AMAZING Game 5 of the World Series.

I cannot stand either of the teams you beat in those series. But now, I cannot stand you. YOU have tainted this game and your reputation. You had us all rooting for the underdog, the little guy. You had us all rooting for Bregs, Springer, Altuve, and Correa. You had us all fooled.

It pains me to say this, but I feel sorry for the Yankees and the Dodgers. You were both robbed.

Long have I taken the stance that the cheaters of this game have no place in it or it’s legacy. If I had a vote for the Hall, not one time would I vote for those who used PEDs. Not one time would I vote for someone who so tainted this game that they may have taken glory from someone else because of their own selfish actions. You, Astros, have tainted this game for your own greed. You chose to play this game as a bunch of cheaters and the punishments that have been handed down are not nearly enough for someone that looks at this game with great regard for its players, it’s history, and it’s future. YOU are worse than the individual PED users because you did it all as a team, not some individual trying to raise their game to get paid.

You should be ashamed enough to never hang that World Series banner in your stadium. If I had the power, I would strip you of that title like a scorned NCAA board member and place sanctions on your program so hard that you wouldn’t be able to recover for the next 10 years. You may have gotten off with the minor punishments that you did from the MLB and feel like it will all be okay.

But in me, and I hope in the hearts of the true baseball lovers, you have lost something far more valuable – respect. You have lost the respect of your peers, your fans, and I hope – yourself.

So, at what point does it cross the line?

When you taint this wonderful game.