Cheating in baseball? There’s apparently an app for that.
At the request of the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball is investigating allegations that the Boston Red Sox stole signs from their rivals with a system that included the use of an Apple Watch in the dugout.
The Red Sox have filed a counterclaim, providing video evidence to MLB that the Yankees used a television camera to help decipher their signs during a game in New York.
Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday his office is running independent investigations of both teams, confirming a New York Times report published Tuesday afternoon.
“This is a charged situation from a competitive perspective when you have the kind of rivalry that the Yankees and the Red Sox have,” Manfred said. “I guess it’s not shocking that you could have charges and countercharges like this. We will continue a thorough investigation on the charges on both sides.”
Stealing signs is not illegal, and never has been, in baseball. For decades, teams have tried to break the code between catcher and pitcher to give their hitters knowledge of what pitch is coming.
If any rules were broken, it would be in allegedly using an electronic device to aid in that effort.
“We don’t want to escalate attempts to figure out what a pitcher is going to throw by inducing or introducing technology or electronics into that mix,” Manfred said.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski would not comment on any details related to the investigation.
He smiled and laughed throughout a hastily arranged news conference to address the story.
“I will say that sign stealing has been going on in baseball for a long time,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve been in the game for 40 years. I’ve known of it for 40 years . . . Do I think sign stealing is wrong? No, I don’t.’’
Dombrowski even suggested the Yankees leaked the story to the Times knowing that Manfred would be at Fenway Park for a scheduled visit.
“The Yankees decided they wanted to give it to the [Times] today for whatever reason. I think maybe it just so happened the commissioner was in town today,” Dombrowski said.
Red Sox manager John Farrell said he was aware his players were trying to steal signs. But he claimed not to know any devices were being used.
“I would have shut that down,” he told the Globe. “Everybody knows that rule. But stealing signs, that’s part of the game.”
Red Sox base coaches Ruben Amaro Jr. and Brian Butterfield wouldn’t comment on the charges. The same was true of every player approached before Tuesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway.
The Times reported that the Sox acknowledged their guilt. A team source told the Globe that Dombrowski quickly put an end to the scheme once he learned of it.
The Red Sox had a simple system.
As part of baseball’s replay challenge system, every team has a bank of monitors in its clubhouse to review close plays. Scouting assistant J.T. Watkins, a former minor league catcher, watches games and recommends to Farrell which plays should be challenged.
The Times reported that team personnel used the replay system to decipher signs. That information was then transmitted to the dugout via the Apple Watch worn by assistant athletic trainer Jon Jochim.
Jochim relayed the information to players sitting close by, who then alerted a runner on base. That player then signaled to the batter what pitch was coming.
The Yankees sent MLB video that allegedly shows Jochim passing information to Brock Holt and Dustin Pedroia, who in turn signaled to Chris Young at second base. Young then signaled the information to the batter.
Young was one of the Red Sox players interviewed by MLB, according to the Times.
This occurred during a Yankees-Red Sox series at Fenway Park Aug. 18-20. The Sox were 10 of 30 hitting with runners in scoring position that series. The Yankees also had suspicions during a series at Fenway in July.
On Tuesday, the Red Sox filed their complaint with MLB. According to an industry source, the Sox have evidence that the Yankees used cameras from the YES Network to zoom in on Red Sox bench coach Gary DiSarcina flashing signs to players from the dugout.
Incorporating their television network to aid in sign-stealing could be interpreted as a greater violation than what the Red Sox did.
Every few seasons, a team is accused of using cameras, binoculars, or even a person in the stands to steal signs.
In 2011, when Farrell managed the Blue Jays, ESPN reported a man in a white shirt sitting in center field raised his arms to indicate an offspeed pitch was coming.
The Blue Jays denied it and MLB did not take action.
MLB’s investigation should be completed before the end of the regular season. Manfred has the power to vacate victories by the Red Sox as punishment.
But that would be precedent-setting.
“Has it ever happened with this type of allegations? I know the answer is no,” he said. “It’s fair and the reason for that is it’s just very hard to know what the actual impact in any particular game was of an alleged violation.”
Dombrowski and Manfred said such allegations are usually handled on a more informal level between the teams.
“I am told that sign-stealing issues are often resolved by one general manager calling another general manager and saying, ‘Hey, I think you are doing X and if you are doing it you ought to stop doing it.’ That has happened in the past,” Manfred said.
But this time it escalated with Yankees general manager Brian Cashman filing a formal and detailed complaint.
“Everybody has to do whatever they think is the right thing to do,” Dombrowski said.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.