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Red Sox and Stealing Signs

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Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP

The Boston Red Sox baseball team has admitted to using electronic surveillance to steal signs. What does all this mean? It’s a rather confusing topic because stealing signs isn’t necessarily against the rules. If a player, using his or her eyes, notes particular signals from the catcher or someone in the dugout, the spotter is allowed to alert teammates. However, it is illegal if any other aid is used.

In this case the Red Sox video replay staff watched the catcher’s signals closely and then relayed information to the dugout via a smart watch. Thus, players were able to know the signals used by the opposing team. This is helpful mostly when a player is on second base and can see the catcher signal to the pitcher. The player on second then signals the batter as to what pitch to expect.

However, a team might send the signal from somewhere in the stands as well. That is what makes this case interesting. If the team was essentially stealing signs at every point in the game, there is no reason they couldn’t have worked out a system to alert the player at the plate under any circumstances. A single pixel color on a video screen could be used as such. The Red Sox certainly have not admitted to doing something of this nature but the possibility exists, and in the high-stakes world of professional athletics I’m quite certain that other people have thought of such things.

Normally a team will change the signs a catcher gives to the pitcher frequently because of such spying. It has long been fairly normal to steal signs. There are decades old allegations of people with binoculars and telescopes doing such from hidden positions throughout the ballpark, but the difficulty was always getting this information to the batter in a timely fashion.

I think the Red Sox should be punished for their scheme simply because they have admitted to breaking existing rules. That being said, I see no possible way to prevent a team from intercepting signals from the catcher to the pitcher and relaying those to hitters. The cat is most certainly out of the bag.

I think baseball must institute a new method of getting such information from the catcher or dugout to the players on the field. Football instituted a communication system by which the quarterback and defensive captain talk via a closed-circuit system. I think baseball needs to institute something along the same lines. Perhaps the catcher can have a Morse Code like tapping device attached to a finger seeing as they obviously can’t say the words out loud.

In most cases the manager is calling pitches from the dugout in any case and the closed-circuit system would work well in that situation. Personally, I think all the players should be able to communicate in this fashion.

When attempting to stop cheating we must accept the realities of technology and rather than uselessly attempt to ban them, use them to further our cause.

By Tom Liberman

Tom Liberman is a regular fellow from St. Louis, Mo., who enjoys spending time with his wonderful family and great friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time. 

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