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Gimme little sign! Modern technology, used in sign stealing in MLB


It is not illegal to steal signs in Major League Baseball. It happens all the time. But when modern technology gets involved in this part of the game, it makes news.

Reports are that Major League Baseball is currently looking into the case of the Boston Red Sox using modern technology–namely, a smart watch–to steal signs against opponents, including their arch rival New York Yankees.

In fact, the Red Sox admitted to the thievery, stating that training personnel received signals from video personnel on a smart watch, and that information was passed onto the bench and to players as they went up to hit.


Now, the Red Sox wouldn’t admit their devilish deed without this caveat: the Yankees were doing something similar, getting information from their YES TV monitors about what pitch was coming.

Accordingly, Commissioner Rob Manfred is looking into the charges all around, but he said he doesn’t think that this is a widespread problem.

Stealing signs means that one team picks up something from the other team that allows it to know what type of pitch is being thrown.

Signs can be picked up from the catcher–who puts down a set of fingers to tell the pitcher what type of pitch he wants thrown–or it can be picked up from the pitcher, who sometimes calls his own game.

It can also be picked up from the dugout, where the manager or pitching coach gives signals to the catcher about what type of pitch is desired.

There are some players who are masters of stealing signs.

Forty years ago, some people thought the only reason the Yankees’ Fred “Chicken” Stanley was in the major leagues was his ability to steal signs from other teams.


In the past, one team has accused the other team of stealing signs, but again, it is legal to do so, as long as it is done without any electronic aid.

Teams in the past have used aids to supposedly steal signs, like telephoto lenses on cameras, but this is 2017, and in the age of electronics, it was only a matter of time before modern technology crept into the stealing signs equation.

Stealing on the surface is wrong, but sign stealing is part of baseball lore and history.

If one can do it simply with his own eyes, as Stanley was so proficient in doing, then it is OK.

But once electronics enters into the mix, it takes sign stealing to another level.

And depending on the player, some batters don’t want to know what pitch is coming. In the 1970s, Stanley was an expert at sign stealing, but some players–one, namely, Graig Nettles, Stanley’s teammate–did not want to know what type of pitch was coming. He preferred to guess, and swing at whatever pitch he wanted to swing at.

But other players like to know what’s coming, so they can adjust their at bat to the pitch.

Whatever the case, this isn’t the first charge of sign stealing using modern technology, and it probably won’t be the last one.

What will be interesting is to see what Manfred does about it all, if he even does anything at all, at least right now.

New rules probably can–and should–be written so that modern electronics cannot be used in sign stealing, but go police it.

Anything that gives a team a leg up on their opponent has always been used by one team versus another, and stealing signs–however it is done–has been part of the game for years, and it isn’t going to stop with modern technology now being employed to do it.

The only thing that is going to stop this is hefty fines, and even though the Red Sox have admitted to such electronic tomfoolery, will hefty fines in a multi-billion-dollar industry stop this from happening?

Signs say no, it won’t.

Lawrence Lapka