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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. (Not That) Tom - May 12, 2010 at 8:21 AM

    Score one for football; they may not care that much about steroids but damn if they don’t come down harder on sign(al)-stealing scofflaws ruining the integrity of their game!

  2. Patrick - May 12, 2010 at 8:38 AM

    Hmm.
    I’ve always thought the very clear – though unwritten – rule, as historically enforced, has been that if you’re a baseball player currently in the game, any amount of sign stealing you can do is OK. I think the on-field coaches are allowed to do it as well, and I suppose you could hardly stop the manager and…
    OK, I start to see where “If you’re not on the field it’s not allowed” breaks down real quick. So then, yeah, no technological aids. As far as possible it should be kept to the players on the field.
    That seems an especially obvious way to achieve it…

  3. schmedley - May 12, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    Maybe the Braves should start stealing signs? Nah, probably wouldn’t do any good anyway.

  4. Chris - May 12, 2010 at 8:51 AM

    You sound like a whiney Braves fan. Probably because you are one. First it’s just speculation they were stealing signs. How do you know the bullpen coach wasn’t trying to see if the pitcher was tipping his pitches. And if they were stealing signs you left one very important part out. How does Victorino get it to the batter from the dugout in between pitches??? If he gets on base then that is the very reason why teams change up their signs with runners on base.

  5. Craig Calcaterra - May 12, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    Major League Baseball reviewed the allegations and issued a warning. I suppose they’re whiny Braves fans too?

  6. schmedley - May 12, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    I’m sure that Bobby Cocks has never done anything underhanded (not counting wife beating).

  7. Josh - May 12, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    Ouch, Chris. You got Calc’d! Perhaps Chris also went to USC and he not read real good….

  8. Craig Calcaterra - May 12, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    And the parade of insecure Phillies fans begins.
    Really, I am continually shocked at how touchy Phillies fans are with even the slightest criticism of their team. They were caught stealing signs. Baseball warned them. No one on the Phillies has yet come out to say that it was all a misunderstanding. Seems fairly clear.
    Despite this, we’ve already got too people lashing out. It never ceases to both amaze and amuse me.

  9. phan4life - May 12, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    Did you read the article? They said the MLB found the evidence inconclusive, but still issued the warning so that the umps would be on the look out. If this did happen in the 2nd inning, they didn’t do a very good job. The Phils didn’t score in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th innings. Victorino had a triple to lead off the game before there was even a chance to steal signs.

  10. schmedley - May 12, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    Craig, we’ve got to stand up for our teams because we are used to getting piled-on by the media. For instance, the Phillies fan who puked on a fan was huge news (and deservedly so), but the story about a Bruins fan throwing a used condom at a Flyers fan in Boston a few nights ago has been totally swept under the carpet by the national media. If there wasn’t such an unfair imbalance in reporting, we probably wouldn’t be so sensitive. I, for one, intend to keep fighting the good fight against the media injustice.

  11. Josh - May 12, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    Ha ha! The report found the evidence inconclusive? Then why did they issue the warning to the Phillies? You don’t warn somebody to stop doing something if you really don’t think they did it. Can you follow that, Philadelphia fans? I guess, in Phillies-land, using binoculars during a game and having an OF call you up on the bullpen phone, just to like, ask you how things are going, is totally normal. Or something. Look: nobody’s trying to hurt your pheelings, phellas. Phight through the Phreudian inpheriority complex and you’ll see that this inphraction is a phrequent one, the warning phaintly ridiculous, yet phair. Or, you can keep acting like the whole world is ganing up on you, like you’re the Yankees or something. Overinphlated sense of importance?

  12. Jonny5 - May 12, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    Ok, we all know that all, yes all teams steal signs. How far are they willing to go to do so? I’d say very far. They have spies, they like to call scouts. That seems ok. They have video. That seems ok. The players on the field can steal them. That seems ok. To have the bull pen coach sport binoculars is that much different? I guess it is, just enough. I don’t like the whole sign stealing thing myself but I’ve come to accept it as part of the game. I feel they need to get rules on the table for sign stealing myself. Not to outlaw it, but to set some sort of guidlines to what’s too much, what’s taking it too far. Would i consider what the Phills did as a candidate for what’s taking it too far? Absolutely.

  13. Josh - May 12, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    …also, I love the assertion that if you hit a triple in the first inning, you don’t need to steal signs the rest of the game, because the other team…what? Won’t try harder? And, better yet, if you don’t score for three innings then you really don’t need to steal signs, or if you are stealing them, it doesn’t matter because, hey, no harm no foul, right? That makes total, total sense. Well done. If you use a loaded bat but don’t get a hit, then it’s like you never used a loaded bat at all! I get it now!

  14. phan4life - May 12, 2010 at 9:16 AM

    Hi Josh”
    While you’re busy being condescending, let me quote the article so you can continue on with your obvious superiority and witty intellect. I see what you did their with the use of the constant use of the ph. Cute. From the Ringolsby article:
    “We found the evidence inconclusive on what was being done, but we have spoken to the Phillies about the situation, and the umpires have been told to be on full alert as to what is going on.
    Again, the Phils didn’t do crap in the 2nd inning, 3rd inning, or 4th. If Billmeyer was stealing signs, he is bad at it.

  15. Joey B - May 12, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    “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.”
    Spot on. When a batter glances back for location, he can expect one in the ribs. When a runner is on second, they change the signs. This has been in place for 100 years. Same in FB. If the defensive captain can signals so be it. For Belicheck to use cameras is crossing the line.

  16. phan4life - May 12, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Um, hey Josh, if the Rockies thought the Phillies were stealing signs in the SECOND inning wouldn’t they have CHANGED the signs? They did not do ANYTHING for 3 innings after the accusation was bought up, and had success against the pitcher BEFORE the accusations. What part of my point DON’T you understand?

  17. Gus Van - May 12, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    “And the parade of insecure Phillies fans begins.”
    You calling them insecure doesn’t make them insecure, but it only fuels them to defend their team with more fervor, which I suppose would make them out to be, at least in your eyes, insecure.
    The notion of the so-called “insecurity” is perpetuated by the sports writers and media who make it their point to take a swipe at Philly and the fans every chance they get.
    There are things that occur in other cities during sports events that go completely unnoticed. I’m not going to comment on whether that is right or wrong, but to completely ignore those incidents only to highlight those that occur in Philadelphia is wrong and shows a bias.
    Perhaps the Phillies fans have a chip on their shoulder, but wouldn’t you?

  18. Craig Calcaterra - May 12, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    If that were the case, sure, but your premise is insecurity itself. I’ll grant you that Philly fan behavior is beat a bit too hard, but it’s not as if incidents that occur elsewhere aren’t reported. This would be a story if any team were doing it. As would the taser and everything else that’s happened lately.
    More simply: “Philly fans are awful and booed Santa Claus” is a cheap and played-out story. “Phillies accused of stealing signs” has nothing to do with that, and should not be held up as the latest examples of some alleged anti-Philadelphia bias.

  19. Mike G. - May 12, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Read the linked article if you haven’t. The first two paragraphs by Ringolsby pretty much say the Phillies might not have made the World Series two years running if they weren’t cheating. Wow! That’s really the lead here.

  20. Jc - May 12, 2010 at 9:42 AM

    Dude its called signs. LOL. He gets the call in a big spot, tells the 3rd base coach, Utley gets the sign which could be as little as a tip of the cap for a fastball or a tap of the brim for a change its just wrong. It’s cheating and what it shows is that they don’t think they are good enough to win without cheating and while we know that isnt the case that’s what it appears to other teams.

  21. Ken - May 12, 2010 at 9:43 AM

    The Phillies are known cheaters. They have a World Series victory tainted by steroids. And now this. Team should just start planting fastballs into Utley’s ear until it stops.

  22. Dave S - May 12, 2010 at 9:53 AM

    This is a great argument to be involved in. Sitting atop the division. Coming off two World Series appearances, with one being a victory. Showing no signs of slowing down. 58+ straight sell outs. Watching games at visiting ball parks with mediocre to poor attendance and have the Phillies fans dominate the crowd.
    So…. Dig up all the dirt you can on us. Stealing signs. Juicing. Heckling. Tasers. Santa Claus. I suggest that next game we have the fans standing in centerfield bring binoculars, steal the signs and put up large cue cards to tip off our batters. That way the bullpen people can rest.
    Throw all the stones you can find. The real fans are too busy having fun. We moved out of the glass house long 4 years ago. Seems that the same garbage was tossed at the Patriots and they faired pretty well.
    Ooooooo o ooooo o oooo….. Oooooo o oooo o o. Chop chop chop away! Have LESS fans show up for games Bravos!

  23. MK - May 12, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    “Again, the Phils didn’t do crap in the 2nd inning, 3rd inning, or 4th. If Billmeyer was stealing signs, he is bad at it.”
    Are you kidding me? Even if the batter knows exactly what’s coming every single pitch, he still has to hit the ball. Which, as everyone but you seems to know, is not an easy task under the best of circumstances…like when your bullpen coach is using binoculars to steal the signs.

  24. RP - May 12, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    This will all blow over once Commissioner Goodell destroys all the tapes.
    Seriously, as a Phillies fan, I agree with Craig that this is probably over the line. However, as an insecure Phillies fan, I will bet money that:
    (1) Other teams are doing it as well (your football associates at PFT covered this angle with regard to Spygate in football). These ideas aren’t so unique that the Phillies would be the first ones to develop them. It doesn’t excuse it in any way.
    (2) If this were the Yankees or the Red Sox, Verducci or Heymann or someone similar would be busy penning a brief note on how “boys will be boys” and how people have been doing this since the days of Cap Anson and how it’s all part of the game (unless it involved A-Rod, of course; then it would be evil).
    (3) No one will go back and be retroactively outraged at how the 1951 Giants… well, let’s just amend Russ Hodges call a bit: “The Ginats steal the pennant! The Ginats steal the pennant! The Giants steal the pennant! The Giants steal the pennant! The Giants stea the pennant!” Yes, there was no official rule against it, or any enforcement. Just like there was no official rule against the use of amphetamines, and there was no enforcement of the official rule against steroids in the 1990’s.
    (4) Like all Phillies fans, I await with dread the first column (and this is not on Craig, who’s reporting the news pretty even-handedly) asking whether the “Why Can’t Us?” title of the 2008 WFCs involved cheating. To be fair, they have been questioning the 2004 and 2007 Sox titles, although the media hasn’t exactly been aggressive in wondering about the 1998-2000 Yankees.

  25. phan4life - May 12, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    “Are you kidding me? Even if the batter knows exactly what’s coming every single pitch, he still has to hit the ball. Which, as everyone but you seems to know, is not an easy task under the best of circumstances…like when your bullpen coach is using binoculars to steal the signs.”
    Excuse me, but once again, for THREE innings there was NO success had. Don’t you think of 9 batters faced knowing what was coming that maybe ONE of them might do something? Get over yourself. Either the Phils win because they steal signs as people on here accuse, or you don’t have success from stealing signs because you still have to hit the ball and there is no guarantee. YOUR argument makes no sense.

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