January 7, 2020

MLB Will Open An Investigation Into Allegations Red Sox Illegally Used Video Room To Steal Opponents' Signs In 2018 (In Home And Road Games)

Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic report that MLB's investigation into sign-stealing by the Houston Astros in 2017 has now widened to include the Boston Red Sox's activity in 2018:
Three people who were with the Red Sox during their 108-win 2018 season told The Athletic that during that regular season, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. The replay room is just steps from the home dugout at Fenway Park, through the same doors that lead to the batting cage. Every team's replay staff travels to road games, making the system viable in other parks as well.

Red Sox sources said this system did not appear to be effective or even viable during the 2018 postseason, when the Red Sox went on to win the World Series. Opponents were leery enough of sign stealing — and knowledgeable enough about it — to constantly change their sign sequences. And, for the first time in the sport's history, MLB instituted in-person monitors in the replay rooms, starting in the playoffs. For the entire regular season, those rooms had been left unguarded. ...

"It's cheating," one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox said. "Because if you're using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn't have to steal it."

The Red Sox declined to comment at the time of publication.

Major League Baseball said in a statement, "The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter." ...

The Red Sox's system was possible only when a runner was on second base, or sometimes even on first base. Nonetheless, a team that is able to discern that information live, during a game, and relay it to base runners has a distinct advantage. A runner at second base can stare in at a flurry of catcher's signs and know which one matters, then inform the hitter accordingly.

It's impossible to say for certain how much this system helped the Red Sox offense. But their lineup dominated in 2018, when they led the league in runs scored. ...

The accounts about the Red Sox's activity were given to The Athletic on the condition of anonymity. ...

Like the Astros, the Red Sox operated with a deep suspicion that they were not alone. In some cases, players and coaches arrived in Boston with firsthand experience of sign stealing elsewhere. In recent postseasons, the paranoia was particularly acute.

"You got a bunch of people who are really good at cheating and everybody knows that each other's doing it," said one person with the 2018 Red Sox. "It's really hard for anybody to get away with it at that point. … If you get a lion and a deer, then the lion can really take advantage of the deer. So there's a lot of deers out there that weren't paying attention throughout the season. In the playoffs, now you're going against a lion."

The Red Sox in 2018 were under a new manager, Alex Cora, whom The Athletic previously reported played a key role in devising the sign-stealing system the Astros used in 2017, when he was the team's bench coach. ...

The system the Red Sox employed was not unlike one they had used in previous seasons under a different manager, John Farrell. It was also similar to one the Yankees and other teams had employed before MLB started its crackdown. (Hitters can legally visit the replay room during games to study some video.)

A staff member in the Red Sox's video replay room would tell a player the current sign sequence. The player would return to the dugout, delivering the message on foot, rather than through a wearable device or a phone.

"There was constant movement," said one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox. "They were always trying to figure out the system."

Someone in the dugout would relay the information to the baserunner, leaving the runner with two easy steps: Watch the catcher's signs and, with body movements, tell the hitter what's coming.

In daily hitters' meetings, Red Sox players and personnel would review their communication methods for that day.

The runner would let the hitter know if he was aware of the sequence. "Put two feet on the bag or look out into center field, and do something that's subtle," as one Red Sox source described it.

The runner stepping off the bag with the right foot first could mean fastball; left foot first, a breaking ball or off-speed pitch.

Such a system was far more difficult for opponents to detect than banging on a trash can. It also had a semblance of propriety, incorporating old-school, legal practices: A runner on base still had to use his own eyes before he could put the contraband information to good use.

Like many teams, the Red Sox often knew pitchers' sequences heading into a game through the use of video. If a pitcher does not or did not change his sign sequence from his previous outing, that is and was his own responsibility.

But if the sign sequences were altered on the fly, the Red Sox had a way to adjust almost immediately — by sending a player from the dugout to the video room a few feet away. ...

In at least one respect, baseball's efforts to eliminate electronic sign stealing are similar to its attempts to curb the use of performance-enhancing drugs: The league's rules to prevent cheating lag behind the cheaters.

The evolution of the replay room into a hive of sign-stealing activity was years in the making. ...

As far back as 2015, the Yankees used the video replay room to learn other teams' sign sequences, multiple sources told The Athletic. Other teams likely were doing the same. Sources said the Red Sox began doing it no later than 2016.

"Oftentimes it takes a player to show up and be like 'You f—— morons, you're not doing this?'" said one American League executive.


FenFan said...

I'm neither accusing or defending the Red Sox or any other MLB team, but it seems to me that if teams are allowed to look at video during games, they are doing it to gain an advantage DURING the game in some capacity. What's to stop a team from also looking at video from previous games to see if there is consistency in the signs being put down by the catchers?

Sign stealing, from my understanding, has been going on for years. 20 years ago, surviving members of the New York Giants 1951 pennant winners admitted that they were using a telescope in the outfield to steal signs, and that may have been partially responsible for Bobby Thomson's "shot heard round the world" to win the NL pennant. I'd be willing to bet that there was sign stealing longer before then, too.

It seems like teams will do whatever they can to find an advantage. Whether or not it is ethical is up for debate, I suppose.

allan said...

Not much you can do about teams watching previous games. But studying signs in-game - and relaying signs to batters as they bat - I can't see how that should be legal. (But how do you stop guys from looking at a catcher's signs when they go back and look at their swings?)

There's a reason why the 1951 Giants' scheme was not publicly known for decades. It was clearly against the rules. (And, yes, there have been attempts to relay stolen signs well before 1951.)

I was reading the SoSH thread about this last night and most, if not all, posters were saying the Red Sox story was much ado about nothing, and was different from the Astros' trashcan banging. All I could think was the posters were making a distinction because it was Boston. If the Yankees had won the WS two years ago and been doing this during the season - home and road games - I have an inkling the reaction would have been somewhat different.

Do ethics even apply here? If the rule book say "X is illegal", even if you *would* do it, if possible, it's still against the rules. The rule may be stupid, you may not agree with it, you may think it should be repealed (and maybe it will, later on), but when you play the game, you have agreed to abide by this (possibly arbitrary) rule. I don't see a debate there. Same thing with PEDs. You might believe you can take them, it's your body, etc., but they are specifically not allowed.

allan said...

The Globe's 108 Stitches:
Peter Abraham offers a solution to teams illegally stealing signs: Take away the video. Replays to correct mistakes by umpires should be handled by a fifth umpire watching from the press box level, something Terry Francona and others managers have advocated for years.

... And look: The CHB calls the Red Sox "an arrogant disgrace". Wow! Didn't see that one coming.

FenFan said...

Allan, I agree with you that the rules are the rules are the rules. Just because you CAN do doesn't mean you SHOULD do it, and if you get caught, then you should be punished. Still, as you pointed out, when these guys review their plate appearances, you can't help but see the signs being put down by the catcher and quickly figure out what pitch relates to what sign.

Taking away the option to review video seems like the only logical choice here.

... And look: The CHB calls the Red Sox "an arrogant disgrace". Wow! Didn't see that one coming.

Shocking that he would say that...

laura k said...

Also SOSH members have a double standard! Didn't see that coming either!!