Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Sign Stealing...

          So, the recent news involving a World Series winning team stealing signs has thrown the baseball into turmoil...truly a sign of the 24 hour baseball news cycle. What should the punishment be? Should a team be stripped of its title over it? Should there be an asterisk? What does baseball need to do about it?
          My answers would be, in order: none, no and nothing.

          Look, stealing signs has been going on in baseball since the earliest games. Essentially, it is the reason for signs in the first place. When he was a shortstop in college, Moe Berg would tell his second baseman if there was a play in place by yelling out in Latin.
          If you have seen a mound conference in the last twenty years, you'll see that the catcher will sometimes keep his mask on, while the pitcher and/or coach covers their mouth while they discuss strategy. (and more often than not, the next pitch is a fastball)
          Teams look for an advantage. That's the nature of competition. So yes, a team will try to decipher third base coach signals. They will try to determine if a pitcher is 'tipping' his pitches, as in he stops chewing his gum before throwing a breaking ball, or taps his glove twice before a change-up.
          A friend and I noticed that a particular player on the Mets would hold his arms in a certain position before he would attempt a stolen base. We shared that with a Mets coach, who told us that they were aware, and they were working on it. Then he told us of another 'tell' that another player had, how he would twist his left foot when he was stealing.
          Bench players study everything during games. signs from the dugout, patterns from the third base coach, tics of the pitcher. It has been a part of the game.
          Tipping the hitter to the type of pitch has also been happening forever. There is a story that Bobby Thompson was tipped on the pitch that he hit for THAT homer in the 1951 playoff game against the Dodgers.
          Watching a game, when there is a runner on second, one will see the catcher flash a series of signs, which are coded. This is for a few reasons. First, so the runner on second can't alert the batter as to the pitch coming, and he can't see if he can take an advantage on his lead if he knows what pitch is coming.
          The catcher, if you look, also does things to keep the signals hidden, as in blocking the signs with his glove, so the third base coach, or third base dugout can see them. Most times, he will also peer up at the hitter to see if he's sneaking a peak.
          Does knowing what pitch is coming help the hitter? Sometimes. But several batters actually prefer NOT knowing the pitch.
          There was a story involving Rod Carew, where the opposing catcher flat out told him that they couldn't get him out, so they were just going to tell him what was coming. Carew didn't like that idea at all. But he still got a couple of hits, as Carew did.

          So, what will come of this scandal? Who knows. This current commissioner seems to be very intent on leaving his own indelible mark on the game. He does not seem to be one to shy away from making unprecedented decisions. So he might come down hard on the team in question. After all, he is apparently attempting to shut down a couple of minor leagues, along with dozens of teams. So, there really is no telling what will happen.
         What should happen?
          Maybe a symbolic fine for the team in question. And a strong suggestion to the teams that were 'victimized' to use better signals.

          But that's just my humble opinions.