How technology has changed sign-stealing in baseball from an art to a scandal

Massachusetts

A TV screen shows news about Boston Red Sox baseball manager Alex Cora at the Bleacher Bar at Fenway Park, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP/AP) – Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora was fired a day after MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred implicated him in the sport’s sign-stealing scandal.

Alex Cora headshot, former Boston Red Sox manager, (AP)

Cora was the Astros’ bench coach when they won the 2017 World Series and led Boston to the title the following year in his first season as manager.

Rob Manfred, MLB Commissioner

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball commissioner, (AP)

Manfred’s nine-page report investigating sign-stealing by the Astros mentioned Cora 11 times, saying Cora was among those who “originated and executed” aspects of the cheating scheme.

Manfred explained that the team used a center field camera to decode catchers’ signals to pitchers and banged on a trash can with a bat or massage gun near the dugout to let hitters know which pitch was coming.

Cora’s dismissal comes a day after Astros manager AJ Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow were fired by the Astros.

Houston Astros

Hinch and Luhnow let go an hour after Manfred suspended them for the 2020 season for their role in the cheating scheme.

What is Sign Stealing

Sign-stealing has been a part of baseball since the game began.

It’s the act of decoding an opponents’ signs, either the catcher’s signaling which pitch to throw or the third-base coach’s signs to the batter.

A runner on second base will often attempt to figure out the catcher’s signs to gain a tactical advantage by relaying the signs to the batter.

Stealing the signs that are given by the third base coach or those of the catcher by a baserunner on second base is acceptable and it is up to the team giving the signs to protect them so they are not stolen.

But the use of electronic devices in dugouts is a breach of baseball’s rules.

Major League Baseball clarified that stance in a preseason bulletin to teams in 2017:

“The use of electronic equipment during a game is restricted. No Club shall use electronic equipment, including but not limited to walkie-talkies, cellular telephones, laptop computers or tablets, to communicate to or with any on-field personnel, including those in the dugout, bullpen, field and, during the game, the clubhouse. No equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage. Laptop computers and hand held devices are not permitted on the bench or in the dugout.

The only exceptions to this prohibition are the use of a mobile phone for communication between the dugout and the bullpen, and the use of tablets in the dugout or bullpen running uniform programs, so long as such devices and programs have been approved by the Office of the Commissioner.”

MLB Commissioner’s Office

The Astros and the Red Sox are both accused of using technology to steal signs during their World Series winning seasons of 2017 and 2018.

The punishment is now fines, suspensions, and embarrassment.

It wasn’t always that way.  Throughout baseball history, punishment was delivered on the field of play usually with a batter getting buzzed near the head or drilled in the back with a pitch.

Jim Bunning, Former MLB Pitcher

Jim Bunning pitches as Detroit Tigers pitcher, (AP)

Here’s a funny story Jim Bunning told when I was there for his Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1996:

Back in the 1950’s and early 60’s Yankee pitcher Bob Turley was so adept at stealing signs that Yankee manager Ralph Houk would sometimes let Turley coach first base on days he wasn’t pitching.  

He would figure out the other team’s signs and then whistle whenever a pitch was different from the last one.

Hitters would start every at-bat looking for a curveball, and if a fastball was coming, so was Turley’s whistle. He would then stay silent until something else was called.

One day Bunning caught on as Turley whistled and the Yankees pounded him during one of his starts.

Finally, with Mickey Mantle at bat, Bunning turned to Turley in the first-base coach’s box and told him that another whistle would result Mantle getting drilled.

Sure enough, Turley whistled on Bunning’s first pitch and Bunning drilled Mantle in the leg.

Bunning warned Turley again but the next hitter was Yogi Berra and he wanted no part of it. Berra turned to Bunning cupped his hands around his mouth, and shouted, “Jim, he’s whistling, but I ain’t listening.”

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