Extra Points Column: Sign Stealing in Baseball Nothing New
"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign ... Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind ... Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?" ... Five Man Electrical Band, 1970
I'm not understanding all the hullabaloo about baseball's sign-stealing scandal.
The practice has been around for centuries. Over 100 years before the Houston Astros allegedly taped buzzers under their uniforms and banged trash cans to tip off batters about fastballs and sliders, the Phillies were using subterfuge to alert their hitters about spitballs and shine balls.
According to The Athletic, 1897 Phils manager George Stallings had backup catcher Morgan Murphy hide in a clubhouse beyond centerfield at the Baker Bowl with a set of binoculars aimed at home plate and a telegraph he would use to tell Stallings what pitch the opposing catcher was calling.
And when it comes to wearing wires and utilizing technology for an advantage, the Astros had nothing on former Phils infielder/third-base coach Pearce "What's the Use" Chiles during the 1900 season. According to Yahoo Sports, Reds shortstop Jack Corcoran noticed that Chiles' leg was constantly twitching. He ran over to the coaches box, kicked away at the mud and dirt, and uncovered a wooden box that contained a bunch of wires that delivered electrical impulses - one jolt for a fastball, two for a curve, etc. - to Chiles' leg.
Legend has it that New York Giants hitter Bobby Thomson knew Brooklyn Dodgers hurler Ralph Branca would be throwing a fastball his way before hitting the "Shot Heard 'Round the World" in 1951 due to a sign-stealing system involving a powerful telescope at the Polo Grounds and a electronics system.
So why all the outrage now?
And why are the Astros and other teams - if you think the 'Stros are the only team doing it, you're incredibly naive - being chastised for using computers and digital technology to try and predict which pitch is coming when it's used in virtually every other aspect of the game?
For those who want the Astros' 2017 World Series title vacated, please explain how they won more games (53) and scored more runs (501) on the road that season than at Minute Maid Park (48 and 395)? During the 2017 ALCS, Houston went 4-0 at home and outscored the Yankees 15-4. The Yankees went 3-0 at Yankee Stadium and outscored the Astros 17-5. So did the Yankees also cheat?
I'm guessing the people who want the Astros' World Series titles vacated are the same folks who want to see shifts outlawed, even though it seems to me a manager can position his infield and outfield any way he sees fit. You want to beat the shift? Try bunting once in a while.
You might also want to ban analytics, since hitters study hours of video on a particular pitcher to determine which pitch they are most likely to throw in a certain situation.
By the way, if batters didn't know what R.A. Dickey, Tim Wakefield, Wilbur Wood, Hoyt Wilhelm and the Niekro brothers were throwing - all were knuckleball specialists - they were morons.
When it came to guarding against sign stealing, my high school baseball coach was way ahead of his time.
Former Lower Cape May Regional High School skipper Jack Weeks devised a fool-proof system for calling pitches.
It was so simple, yet a work of genius.
I'd get a chuckle when standing on the mound and watching an opposing baserunner trying to decipher the hand signals catchers Dave Mendo, Mark Heston, Eddie Hoffman and Bill Damiana would flash to me in the mid-1970s.
The hand signals were meaningless. Catchers called pitches by the way they positioned their gloves when they were in their crouch. For example, if the mitt was pointed at the pitcher, it meant fastball. Laying it across their knee was the signal for a curve. Aiming it toward the ground was the sign for a changeup.
Coach Week's system helped him win 400 games during his 30-year reign at Lower Cape May. So did his methods as third-base coach. Hitters would look at him as he barked out numbers and went through an elaborate series of gestures. Like the catcher's signals, it was a ruse. Bunts, steals and hit-and-runs were determined by where he was standing in the coaches box.
The Astros never would have been able to figure it out. They could have worn buzzers, examined high-definition video and banged on trash cans like they were members of the JAMMitors percussion band at Walt Disney World and it wouldn't have mattered.
If you truly want to get rid of sign stealing, however, simply get rid of signs.
Like others have suggested, borrow a page from the NFL and have the pitcher, catcher and maybe the manager wear microphones and ear pieces to communicate. That would also eliminate the need for mound visits, which would speed up the game.
Or just give Coach Weeks a call.