Here’s a simple solution to the spy-vs.-spy culture that has invaded baseball when it comes to stealing signs between the pitcher and catcher: Take away the video.
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, something Terry Francona and others managers have advocated for years.
Baseball’s moral compass, which is rarely properly calibrated in the first place, has shattered because of electronic sign stealing.
Ample evidence indicates that the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros used a monitor close to the dugout at Minute Maid Park to steal signs, then thumped on a garbage can with a bat to signal hitters at the plate.
The Sox didn’t use an electronic device to relay the information to the dugout, something they were found guilty of in 2017 and fined for. But they still technically broke the rules.
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. Of course players are going to use replays to pick up signs, and their excuse is always that every team is doing it.
So get rid of it. The players can study all the video they want up until the game starts. Then everything shuts off.
Then there’s no gray area or equivocation. The only acceptable sign stealing should come from watching the game in person and decoding it with your own wits.
What’s ironic is that Red Sox manager Alex Cora was very good at that when he played. He could watch a game and pick up subtleties that others couldn’t. It’s part of what allowed him to play 14 years in the majors.
Cora was bench coach of the 2017 Astros and obviously had to know what they were doing. If the 2018 Red Sox are found guilty of breaking the rules, Cora has to be suspended for at least a few games to make a point, and the team should lose a draft pick.
The Sox need to take a hard look, from the top down, at why this has happened for the second time in three years.
Last June, after the Sox allowed 29 runs in two games against the Yankees in London, Cora launched into an unprompted complaint that his team needed to pay better attention to details. The Yankees, he said, had gained an edge thanks to the influence of new adviser Carlos Beltran.
“I know how it works. He’s helping a lot,” Cora said. “They’re paying attention to details.”
The clear implication was that Beltran, who played for the 2017 Astros, was helping the Yankees steal signs better than the Red Sox were.
Now Beltran is managing the Mets.
It’s become obvious that MLB can’t trust players and coaches to obey the rules. The temptation is too great. So take away in-game video and end all the suspicions.
It will help the game, too.
The pace of play, especially in the postseason, slows to a crawl as paranoid pitchers and catchers run through multiple sets of signs to confuse the sign stealers. The assumption is that every team is up to something.
“We went into the playoffs knowing we had to be careful with signs,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said before the World Series last fall.
Yahoo! Sports reported this week that MLB is actually considering a system that would give catchers a wearable control pad to call pitches via a series of flashing lights imbedded in the mound.
Fines, suspensions, and flashing lights won’t fix this mess. There always will be somebody trying to find a way around it. It’s naive to think otherwise.
So take away the video.
The game should be decided on the field, not in a room behind the dugout.