Tampa Bay Rays: Chill Out, it’s Just Sign-Stealing – How MLB Can Fix it

Charlie Morton and Brian McCann (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Charlie Morton and Brian McCann (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Rays have been affected by the sign-stealing scandal in recent years. We take a look at a history of the art/crime of stealing signs in baseball.

With the Tampa Bay Rays watching their division rivals win a World Series in 2018 whilst utilizing technology to cheat and then being eliminated by the originators of the method (that we know of) last season in the ALDS, we have a vested interest in the goings-on of the cheaters in the league.

Tampa Bay Rays’ fans aren’t happy about all of this, and rightfully so, but are we making too big a deal about it?

Is Brian McCann now actually a bad guy? I’ve heard Braves fans wondering if McCann is now actually a villain.

I have not heard too many rumblings about Charlie Morton, but if we hate the other players from those cheating teams, shouldn’t we be questioning Morton?

Is it possible the Astros were honoring an age-old tradition?

Using Technology to Steal Signs

In 1876, the Harford Blue Dark Blues stationed a man hidden in a shed to steal signs and relay them to hitters.

In 1897 the Phillies stationed a bench player beyond the center-field wall with binoculars and a stinkin’ telegraph. He would send a message to the manager to indicate which pitch-type was called. That sounds familiar.

In 1900, the Phillies were caught again. This time they used an electronic-communication system to inform the manager. The manager would then stomp on the ground to indicate pitch-type to the hitter… That also sounds familiar.

Flash forward to 1951. One of my favorite stories, the shot heard ’round the world. Bobby Thompson‘s shot off of Ralph Branca that won the Pennant for the Giants is alleged to have involved a high-powered telescope and a buzzer system…Sound familiar?

Here’s an excerpt from a fantastic New York Times article on the 1951 buzzer system.

"Yvars has told how he sat at the end of the bullpen bench next to the buzzer. In the system installed by the Polo Grounds electrician, one buzz meant that the spotter, perched behind the telescope (that Coach Herman Franks had suggested to Durocher) had stolen the sign for a breaking ball. No buzz meant a fastball."

Sound familiar?

Did the Astros and Red Sox perpetrate some new kind of evil on the league? How did so many pitchers allow the banging on the trash can to go on with the Astros? Outside of the camera, it’s maybe the most conspicuous method of cheating dating back to 1900.

Long have base runners at second stolen signs with hand signals. It’s gamesmanship, it’s the hidden ball trick. It’s a part of baseball. Here is one (of countless) instances of sign stealing.

Russell Martin suspected the Blue Jays were tipping signs from second, leading Bartolo Colon to give up eight runs in the first inning. Martin’s response lamented his inability to recognize it and stop it early enough, not the fact that the Blue Jays were stealing signs.

I’m not defending sign stealing, but methods aren’t a lot different than they were 120 years ago. Look and listen.

You can read the stats and see how much the sign-stealing improved, or did not improve the accused teams.  I would bet your farm that these two teams are not the only two to do it, they are just the two that got caught.

It’s not okay.

Rays Colored Solution to 120-Year-Old Problem

If baseball wants to solve the non-sense then they will let the pitchers and catchers use technology to communicate pitch selection and location. Let the manager, pitcher, and catcher communicate. We have the technology.

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What are your thoughts?