HOUSTON – Baseball teams have been trying to steal their opponents’ signs since the invention of the curveball, if not before. And even the use of technology to aid sign-stealing is nothing new in Major League Baseball: More than two decades ago, Mets manager Bobby Valentine was accused of having cameras pointed into the Shea Stadium visitors’ dugout to get a better read on his counterparts.
But a wealth of new technologies available to nefarious ballclubs further complicates matters. Last year’s Red Sox got caught using Apple watches to relay opponents’ signals to baserunners. During ALCS Game 3 on Tuesday, news broke that MLB investigated the Astros for an employee stationed in a photographers’ box during the first game of the series pointing his smartphone camera into the Red Sox’ dugout.
The league concluded that the Astros’ intentions were not to steal signs, but to make sure that the Red Sox weren’t stealing their signs. Next-level spy stuff. The Cleveland Indians filed a complaint with the league about the same employee doing the same thing during their 2018 ALDS loss to Houston. And it seems a safe bet similar surveilling happens elsewhere in the sport.
“I’m not going to get into any specifics about any teams or organizations or whatever, but there’s long since, the last few years, been rumblings of places that you need to be aware of stuff,” Astros starter Justin Verlander said before Wednesday’s Game 4. “And I think when you see yourself in the playoffs, you’re going to protect yourself at all costs. That’s why I think you see a lot of mound visits. You see a lot of multiple signs. And I mean you’re just hyper aware of it.”
Verlander suggested that an idea he presented to the MLB Players Association for hastening pace of play could also mitigate teams’ efforts to swipe signals: Some sort of wireless earpiece, like quarterbacks wear in the NFL, allowing pitchers, catchers and managers to confer without mound visits.
“I brought this issue to MLB last year and thought that for pace of game, that could probably save 20 minutes a game,” Verlander said. “You think of all the signs everybody’s going through – between pitcher/catcher, manager/catcher, especially when a guy gets on second base, I mean the game comes to a halt when that happens because of all the technology, and we know that you need to be aware of it.
“It’s not going to help pitch tipping, but I think it will help a lot with the sign stuff. And I think – I mean, I think this is a lot to do about nothing. I think it’s more peace of mind for the pitchers. Like I said, especially in the playoffs, you don’t want there to be any lingering doubt of anything. You want the only reason you get beat to be because you got beat. You don’t want to have to think it’s something else. That’s why you’re seeing all these advanced signs.”
Verlander said he didn’t know how many pitchers would be eager to wear earpieces on the mound and said he hadn’t worked through the specifics of how it might operate – whether it would be a one-way connection from pitcher to catcher, or vice versa, or an open line to the dugout.
“For me, somebody who calls my own game for the most part, me being able to tell him what to throw – or what I want to throw, by the time the batter steps in there’s no signals. There’s nothing; we’re ready to go.
And also, when guys get on base, you see it from the – how often do you see a pitcher ready to go, batter ready to go, catcher ready to go, but we’re still getting signals from the manager in the dugout? Whether it’s pick-off or throw-over or pitch-out or whatever sign could possibly be coming, you’ve got to give a sign every single time…. For me it’s kind of a win-win, personally. I think it speeds up the game quite a bit, and hopefully can help alleviate some of this stuff that we see from pitchers with all these multiple signs.”