January 8, 2020

Dombrowski Says He "Never Had Any Knowledge" Of 2018 Red Sox Sign-Stealing; Cora, Now Implicated In Illegal Activity With Two Teams In Two Consecutive Years, Declines Comment

(New York Post website)

The Red Sox have released a statement as MLB begins investigating allegations that the team used its video replay room to illegally steal signs during the 2018 season.
We were recently made aware of allegations suggesting the inappropriate use of our video replay room. We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with MLB as they investigate the matter.
Former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski stated that he had not been contacted by MLB: "I never have had any knowledge of this." Manager Alex Cora declined to comment.

The Red Sox were fined an undisclosed amount by MLB in September 2017 for relaying sign sequences from the replay room to the dugout. At that time, MLB said it "received absolute assurances from the Red Sox that there will be no future violations of this type". The Globe's Nick Cafardo reported the Red Sox had received a "very lenient punishment ... Basically, what Manfred said in his discipline was the next team to try something like this is really going to get nailed."

Alex Speier, Boston Globe:
One member of the team confirmed to the Globe that there was constant traffic in 2018 to and from the area where the real-time feed used for determining whether to challenge on-field calls was broadcast. However, that source noted that the real-time video replay system was located next to the BATS video consoles that players use to review in-game at-bats.

According to that team member, Red Sox player traffic around those systems was constant — in no small part because players were constantly reviewing their swings and pitch selections from previous at-bats. Indeed, that same team member noted that it could have been possible for sign sequences to be stolen via the BATS system, albeit in a fashion that was slightly (at least one batter) behind real time.

That said, the proximity of the BATS system to the real-time feed also would have created what was characterized as an almost unavoidable temptation to crack teams' sign sequences, something that could be used to relay pitch types and/or locations via traditional means.
Last season, according to Speier, "the Red Sox were among the teams that had pitchers keep sign-sequence cheat sheets in their hats out of concern for sign-stealing". In an interview from 2019, pitcher Rick Porcello said:
Major League Baseball is limiting mound visits because there are too many mound visits because we're worried about guys stealing signs. When you start altering rules in the game because of espionage, you start realizing this is pretty real, and it's not just the AL East doing it. It's everyone. But it's part of the game now. There's so much technology, so much video, 30 different camera angles where a coach can watch a flex in the forearm. You've got first base coaches standing on the foul lines trying to stare at catchers' signs. It's real. But it's part of the game.
There is, of course, a very real difference between (a) sitting in the video room, watching and pausing video of the game in-progress to determine sign sequences and (b) a coach on the field or a player on the bench looking for tip-offs by staring at a catcher's forearm or the way a pitcher holds the ball in his glove or the way an infielder may move slightly before a pitch.

Several Boston sportswriters have a simple solution to baseball's current "spy-vs.-spy culture": Take away the video.

Peter Abraham, Boston Globe:
From first pitch to last, do not allow players, coaches, managers, or team staffers access to televisions, monitors, or any other device showing the game beyond the MLB-approved content on those tablets used in dugouts. Everything else, including video on cellphones, should be off-limits, with violators facing suspension. Video replays to correct mistakes by umpires should be handled by a fifth umpire watching from the press box level ...

According to Major League Baseball, hitters are free to use video replays during the game to study pitchers or hitters but can't use replays to steal signs. That's like saying you can use a radar detector on the highway but not to avoid speeding tickets. ... So get rid of it. The players can study all the video they want up until the game starts. Then everything shuts off.
Jason Mastrodonato, Boston Herald:
Here's one idea: get rid of the replay video rooms. We don't need them. Fans have to be exhausted of watching the manager put his hand in the air for 1 or 2 minutes after every close play as he waits for the call from the video room just to decide if he wants to challenge it or not. Then we wait another 2 or 3 minutes for the replay review.

If managers want to challenge, they can make the decision in real time based on what they see and what their players tell them. It slows the game down otherwise, and clearly teams are taking advantage of having accessible video feeds during the game.
While Cora has declined to speak about these new allegations, he will soon be talking at length to MLB's investigators.

As John Tomase of NBC Sports writes, Cora also "reportedly played a direct role in the Astros' signstealing during their 2017 title season as bench coach".

Sean McAdam, Boston Sports Journal:
Cora served as the bench coach for the Astros, and has been interviewed by MLB in conjunction with that ongoing investigation. And in 2018, of course, Cora was in his first year as Red Sox manager, directing them to a franchise-record 108 wins and a World Series victory. ...

Whereas it might have been difficult for MLB to severely discipline Cora for a past transgression that was committed with a former employer, Cora receives no such protection this time around. If an investigation by MLB — which confirmed one would be undertaken after The Athletic's report — reveals wrongdoing by the Red Sox in 2018, Cora will very much be held responsible — perhaps more than any other figure.
Hannah Keyser, Yahoo Sports:
Amid growing paranoia about sign stealing, Major League Baseball is discussing on-field technology for communicating pitch calls and plans to start soliciting feedback from players this spring training ... The commissioner’s office is in the process of developing a handful of prototype devices to encode pitcher-catcher communication, including a wearable random-number generator and lights in the mound ...

One of the devices in development, described by league sources, is a wearable random-number generator (similar to a push password used for secure log-ins) that corresponds to which sign in a sequence is relevant. This would preserve the existing dynamic of a catcher putting down a sign for interpretation by the pitcher, but overlay it with a level of secure encryption that would be virtually impossible to decode even with a dedicated software program.

Alternatively, the finger system could be replaced by in-ground lights on the mound. Sources with knowledge of the idea said catchers would have access to a control pad that corresponds to a lighting panel visible only to the pitcher. A certain button for a certain light sequence for a certain pitch.
Keyser notes that minor league pitchers wearing earpiece prototypes have found them both distracting and uncomfortable. ... I find it amazing that MLB is considering these technological innovations, while still dragging its feet when it comes to an electronic strike zone.

MLB does not want people to know this story exists. This is MLB's main webpage, today at 3:00 PM (ET):

(MLB.com website)

Tom Keegan, Boston Herald:
In 2001, the Wall Street Journal's Joshua Prager rocked the world with a report that [Bobby Thomson, who hit a National-League-pennant-winning home run in 1951, may have been aided by stealth] technology. The method of cheating, detailed in Prager's book, The Echoing Green, involved the Giants installing a powerful telescope in center field in the Polo Grounds, and pointing it at the opposing team's catcher. A buzz signal electronically was sent to the Giants' bullpen to indicate what pitch was coming. The players in the bullpen relayed body signals to the hitters, at least those who wanted to know. Did Thomson cheat on his historic homer?
It's a fascinating story, but of course the Giants were cheating, though Thomson (supposedly) was one of the hitters who did not want to know what pitches were coming. And there is a reason why the 1951 Giants' scheme was not publicly known for decades. It was blatantly against the rules.

I was reading the SoSH thread about the allegations against the Red Sox last night. Most, if not all, of the posters believed the Red Sox story was much ado about nothing, it's different from the Astros' trashcan banging, and everyone does it:
Way less egregious ... small potatoes ... far less egregious than what the Astros were doing ... a less worse form of cheating ... a close look at any professional sports team is going to unveil something sketchy going on ... Most of the league is trying to gain a competitive advantage...Who cares ...

In baseball, especially, sign stealing is as old as the game. Every team does it. Every. Single. Team. ... The etiquette seems to be that so long as you are clever and discreet about it, no one makes a stink. But if you are overtly flaunting your efforts (with the dugout banging to signal offspeed pitches, or if you show up on the mound with pine tar slathered on your neck) you're going to get called out for it. To a great extent, this entire "scandal" feels very much like baseball's involvement with PEDs. It was tolerated and even encouraged for decades until it became so glaring (in terms of the changes to players appearances and the assault on the record book) that MLB had to do something.
That second paragraph is one person's comment (as opposed to six in the first paragraph) and I probably shouldn't single it out, but I'm dismayed at its paucity of logic.

If a team is clever about cheating, it's quietly acknowledged and allowed? What constitutes "clever" cheating as opposed to "mildly intelligent" cheating? What behaviour lies just over the line into "overtly flaunting"? Would "average flaunting" of the rules make "a stink"? Is all of this written down somewhere? A pitcher can use pine tar as long as it's not slathered on his neck? That's like saying baseball has no problem with the fact that all umpires are blowing calls as long as most fans don't notice it. (Actually, that has been MLB's attitude — and it sucks.) Baseball tolerated PEDs, and for a very long time, but the assumption that the leagues would have continued turning a blind eye if fewer (or different) records were broken ...?

I think all of these posters were desperate to make a distinction because it was Boston's behaviour that had come under scrutiny. And, frankly, I expect a higher level of discourse and honesty from SoSH. If the Yankees had won the World Series two years ago and been accused of this activity during that season — for both home and road games — I have an inkling the reaction would have been somewhat different.

For me, it comes down to this: A player may not agree with some of the rules of his sport, they may make no common sense, they may even be repealed in the future, but abiding by these rules is a requirement of playing the game. He might think he should be able to take PEDs, it's his body, etc. The rule against PEDs is arbitrary, for sure; it's not a law applicable to the general public. But one of the unambiguous rules of professional baseball is taking them is not allowed. If the rule book of your sport says "X is illegal", if you do X and are caught, you should not be surprised if you are punished.

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