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Phillies warned by MLB to stop stealing signs

May 12, 2010, 8:16 AM EDT

Tracy Ringolsby reports that Major League Baseball has issued a warning to the Phillies over allegations that they have been stealing signs.

The latest: during Monday night’s game against the Rockies, bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was seen using binoculars to look in at Rockies catchers. Meanwhile, Shane Victorino was seen in the dugout on the bullpen phone. You don’t have to be Josh Beckett’s wife to figure out what was going on.

There’s nothing in the rule book about sign stealing. There is, however, what amounts to an executive order on the matter. Back in 2001, then-Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Sandy Alderson sent out a memo to all teams that restricted the use of
electronic equipment during a game. Such equipment and technology, Alderson wrote, “could
not be used for communications or for the purpose of stealing signs or
conveying information designed to give a club an advantage.”

Binoculars aren’t electronic equipment. I suppose the bullpen phone could technically be considered that, though I’m guessing that’s not what Alderson had in mind. He was probably thinking about teams having laptops and cameras and Dick Tracy wrist-radios and light-signals a la the 1951 Giants and stuff.  What the Phillies are doing is a bit more low-tech than all of that.

But there is something that seems like a transgression here. Yes, we’re deep into the murky world of the unwritten rules again, but do you not agree that it’s one thing for, say, Chase Utley to pick up a sign while leading off second base and flash it to Jayson Werth, but something different for the bullpen coach to be doing it via binoculars and telephone?

The former seems like competition. The latter seems, well, rather unseemly.  And that’s the case if, for no other reason, than because Utley can get a ball thrown at his ribs if his subterfuge is discovered where the bullpen coach can’t, and that sort of thing tends to matter when it comes to violating unwritten rules.

So shape up, Phillies. It’s bad enough that you’re getting three more home games this year than anyone else. You don’t need the advantage that comes from stealing signs too.

  1. PhillyPhan - May 12, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    No nan, this is not the Phillies stealing the idea from the Patriots. One may think that if they have only been watching or had found interest in baseball in the past 5 years? Perhaps you have only recently been introduced to MLB?
    It’s been said so many times, but once again: “Stealing signs. It is a baseball tradition as old as the game itself.”
    Just a short history of MLB stealing signs info for you:
    Joe Nossek was the best at stealing signs, it was his only job for years as a coach for the White Sox until he was replaced before this season. Phillies past manager Danny Ozark had, at one point, different signs for infielders, outfielders and catchers. Former Padres manager Preston Gomez had a different sign for every player on the team, which got confusing.
    The 1984 Cubs, the NL East champs that year, knew “the other teams’ signs better than our own,” said Oates, then a Cubs catcher, There are countless stories about how teams swiped the signs from opposing catchers to determine if a fastball or a breaking ball was coming. For a portion of the 1980s at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, there was a 25-watt refrigerator bulb in the scoreboard. A member of the organization would sit in the manager’s office and watch the TV broadcast, which had a view of the catcher from center field. There was also a toggle switch in the office. Flip the switch and the light in the scoreboard came on, telling the hometown hitter if a fastball or an off-speed pitch was coming.
    Will stealing signs ever end in MLB? I think that it is only a part of the game in itself. Don’t both teams have this problem? Why should this be solely the Phillies problem? Not defending the Phillies, but am amazed that those dishing out the crap against them must think their own teams have never done this act.

  2. paul - May 12, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    Hasn’t sign stealing been around since the catcher started giving the pitchers signs? They only make a federal case out of this in football. I thought you just knocked a hitter on his ass to deliver the message.

  3. It's Me - May 12, 2010 at 1:57 PM

    If you don’t know how to conceal your signs then you deserve to have them stolen and you should be beaten with every bat in the dugout.

  4. jim - May 12, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    “Hasn’t sign stealing been around since the catcher started giving the pitchers signs? They only make a federal case out of this in football. I thought you just knocked a hitter on his ass to deliver the message”
    Yeah, they really came down on the Patriots for cheating

  5. billfrombucks - May 12, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    Geez. If they were stealing signs, you’d think Ryan Howard might be able to hit left handers better.

  6. sdesmo - May 12, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    Did anybody see that hot babe 3 rows behind home plate?

  7. vic p - May 12, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    well stated!

  8. nan - May 12, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    I understand you want to stick up for your team cause they were the ones busted in this article …
    But I started following baseball listening to the White Sox games on radio in the early 60’s. So your ‘lessons’ and assumption of the longevity of my love of (and knowledge of) the game are way off base (Pardon the pun), and a moot point to boot.

  9. MK - May 12, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    “Better yet, I’ve always wondered (and I would love to kniow whether anyone, including Craig, ever wrote about this) whether the exposure of the names from the list of 104 involved a little tit for tat (a Yankee gets nailed, so two Sox get named) by the folks who have seen the list.”
    I’d love to also know where the leaks came from and especially why, but it doesn’t seem like a tit-for-tat situation. Neither leak had a positive effect on the other team – or even a negative effect on the player’s current team – so there’s nothing really to balance out. I think they’re just three well-known, very successful players who happened to be caught back in 2003.
    Also, FWIW A-Rod wasn’t on the Yankees in 2003 when the test was taken. Of course there could be 2003 Yankees who tested positive, but A-Rod was on the Rangers that year.
    As for Clemens, he was nowhere near as important as Ortiz and Manny were to the Red Sox. No pitcher can be as important as sluggers who play every day. Plus, the Mitchell Report is not exactly a complete picture.

  10. PhillyPhan - May 12, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    nan, as a ChiSox fan, you must remember how they cheated as I noted in my prior post.
    Not sticking up for the Phillies, but rather the game itself and all of MLB in noting once again that this has been happening since the games conception.
    I am also a fossil from the 60’s, as I have had season tik’s with the Phillies since 1964 (Connie Mac Stadium, Veterans Stadium and now Citizens Bank Park). My apologies for my assumption, but as you made note of the “Phils stealing this tactic from the Patriots”…well it made you look a lot younger than you actually are. You just used a horrible comparison and I will take it for what it is.

  11. Moe - May 12, 2010 at 2:46 PM

    Relay a sign or location to the hitter from second and be prepared to take a fastball in the Rib. Peek at a catchers signs while at the plate be prepared to take one in the ribs are also unwritten rules. On the field let the players take care of it.

  12. PhilliesYes - May 12, 2010 at 2:49 PM

    “They were caught stealing signs”
    And there you have it Craig – the reason why Phillies fans jump on you. You do have a bias towards the Phillies, that line right there is proof.

  13. Utley's hair - May 12, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    OK. The Phils were warned not to continue to do something that could not be proven that they were doing. Fine. I guess the other teams need big bad Bud to police their perceived sleights at the hands of the Phightins.

    As for the three extra games, is it the Phils’ fault that MLB didn’t get off its collective fat ass and decide on this prior to the scheduling? No. Hell, U2’s tour is wreaking havoc with teams’ schedules and they managed not to screw THAT up, but I guess Bono and the Edge have more sway with MLB than 20 of the most powerful leaders in the world. As far as the “advantage” for those games goes, the Phightins’ home-away splits tend toward a push at best, with the overall edge going to away, so…um…where’s the advantage?

    By the way, Craig, the Mutts-Yankers, Cubs-White Sox, and, really, A’s-Giants all have “away” games that could be argued as home games, since they all play home-and-home series in their own series. So, again, where is that extra advantage?

  14. Utley's hair - May 12, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Add Dodgers-Angels to that list.

  15. Joey B - May 12, 2010 at 3:29 PM

    “By the way, Craig, the Mutts-Yankers, Cubs-White Sox, and, really, A’s-Giants all have “away” games that could be argued as home games, since they all play home-and-home series in their own series. So, again, where is that extra advantage?”
    If you’re saying an away game isn’t really an away game, because it is played in the Bronx, then I assume you are assuming that a home game is not really a home game, since it being played in the visiting team’s home town.
    But if you wanted to split hairs, the Mets actually lose a small amount of home field advantage in the NYY series. Yankee Stadium is sold out, so Mets fans can’t come in and root for their team. Shea is not sold out, so Yankee fans can come in and root for their team. Even if they buy the tickets on EBay, Yankee tickets cost twice what Mets’ tickets cost.

  16. Travis W - May 12, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Perhaps the difference in coverage is explained by the relative followings of baseball vs hockey? When it happens in hockey, not many people care. Unless, of course, you somehow believe that the media doesn’t consider the level of public interest when they carry a story….

  17. Reid R - May 12, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    Let the Phillies steal all the signs they want. The opposing pitchers need to “enforce” the rule. When the Phillie batters start getting thrown at, they will put a stop to it. All it takes is a few high hard ones to keep everyone honest. MLB has no place stepping in here.

  18. Boo Hoo Florio picked on your team - GET OVER IT - May 12, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    “Seems that the same garbage was tossed at the Patriots and they faired pretty well.”
    Oh yes. They have failed to win a playoff game since Spygate. Faired pretty well, indeed.

  19. Phils Phan - May 12, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    Have been reading these posts and find myself to be laughing about the ultimate in stupidy and cupidity about the leadership of MLB.
    Whom are they kidding with their threats??
    Methinks what is being attempted to insure that their place of “leadership” will be enshrined in Cooperstown. That “leadership” has no more honesty than was shown in the “BLACKSOX SCANDEL” of yore.
    A tempest in a teapot has more validity than accusations whichs are unproven while it is completely factual that signs have been stolen since they first appeared to be used.
    However Mr. Commishioner, you must do something to prove that you earn whatever paycheck the owners have decided you are worth. Worth, dear sir, well worthless is more to the truth.

  20. Utley's hair - May 12, 2010 at 4:35 PM

    So their 16-1 season during Spygate—which, incidentally, included two playoff wins prior to the smacking by the Giants and the gridiron gods—doesn’t count? Okay.

  21. elmer - May 13, 2010 at 8:42 PM

    it was the 2nd inning when this happened and the score was 1-1. Phils score all there runs later in game. Braves are babies. Always complaining. A bunch of girls.

  22. Boo Hoo Florio picked on your team - GET OVER IT - May 13, 2010 at 9:34 PM

    Yes, that abortion of a season should be retracted, not unlike when NCAA sanctions a program for violations.

  23. Lefty - Jun 3, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    Typical idiots who root against Philly teams. Jealous, all.

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