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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. MK - May 12, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    The reason the media has been questioning the 2004 & 2007 Sox titles is because two of the biggest contributors to those victories – Manny Ramirez & David Ortiz – have been busted for PED use.
    I realize that the test they both failed was in 2003, but does anyone who’s not a Red Sox fan believe they stopped using after that. We know for sure Manny did. Ortiz denied ever using, which is both sad and hilarious given his career arc.
    Which isn’t to say that other championship teams didn’t have PED users – of course they did – but no other WS winner has had players of that level of significance caught using. Essentially, their Ruth & Gehrig were cheaters.
    Barring any major surprises, I don’t see anything like that happening with the 2008 Phillies.

  2. Mike G. - May 12, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    I’m a Mets fan and I think this story (Ringolsby’s, not Calceterra’s) is weak. MLB warned the Phillies about something that may or may not have happened? Ringolsby’s lead more than implies that the Phillies may not have had the success they’ve had the last two years if not for stealing signs (which, to my knowledge, has not been documented at any time in 2008 or 2009). What an incredibly irresponsible piece of writing.
    I want my team to kick the Phillies’ asses whenever we play them, but I’ve got nothing but respect for the ability and character of this team and they way they play the game between the lines, and I applaud their accomplishments the last two years. If MLB changes the result of their investigation from “inconclusive” to “conclusive” then I’m obviously open to changing my mind. Until then, shame on Ringolsby for doing much more than implying that the Phillies success has anything to do with cheating.

  3. Al - May 12, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    I have to assume the evidence is “inconclusive” because it’s just the type of thing that there’s no way to prove, save the Phillies coming out and saying “yeah, we did it,” which they obviously will not. MLB just wouldn’t have issued the warning if they didn’t think it extremely probable that that’s what the Phillies were up to.

  4. CB - May 12, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    Way to go Phillies, Baseball is a mind game and they are now playing in the minds of all the teams in the National Baseball league and all the non Phillies fans. This is what happens when you are the best team today in baseball.

  5. MK - May 12, 2010 at 10:09 AM

    HAHAHAHA…so defensive.
    Look, I have no problem with the Phillies. It’s just ridiculous to assume that they weren’t stealing signs because in a sample size of 3 innings no one “did anything”.
    Plus, if they weren’t trying to steal signs why did the bullpen coach lie about the timing?

  6. Schiver - May 12, 2010 at 10:17 AM

    If you’re going to throw vicious accusations around, at least back it up with some evidence. Nobody on the current Phillies roster tested positive for steroids. JC Romero tested positive for a banned substance last season but it was an over-the-counter substance that you can buy at any GNC. And how about the fact that when he came back from his 50-game suspension, he still posted a 2.70 ERA (better than his ERA in 2008). I’m not sure if this is the “tainted by steroids” accusation you are making, but he’s the only guy on the roster that ever tested positive. Get your facts straight.

  7. Ken - May 12, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    JC Romero is exactly who I am talking about. He failed two drug tests prior to the World Series. A World Series in which he was the winning pitcher in two games. Those are facts, and they equal tainted.
    Sorry you want to be a classic Philly apologist, but it’s a tainted win. Replace steroid with PED and my argument stands.
    Thankfully since no one bothered to tune in that year, the World Series more or less never happened.

  8. Ken - May 12, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    JC Romero is exactly who I am talking about. He failed two drug tests prior to the World Series. A World Series in which he was the winning pitcher in two games. Those are facts, and they equal tainted.
    Sorry you want to be a classic Philly apologist, but it’s a tainted win. Replace steroid with PED and my argument stands.
    Thankfully since no one bothered to tune in that year, the World Series more or less never happened.

  9. BC - May 12, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    It’s not illegal in baseball, and teams should be changing signs all the time anyway. I don’t see what the big deal is.

  10. phan4life - May 12, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    C Romero is exactly who I am talking about. He failed two drug tests prior to the World Series. A World Series in which he was the winning pitcher in two games. Those are facts, and they equal tainted.
    Sorry you want to be a classic Philly apologist, but it’s a tainted win. Replace steroid with PED and my argument stands.
    Thankfully since no one bothered to tune in that year, the World Series more or less never happened.
    What two times did he fail a test? Did you see any of the games Romero won in the WS? Game 5 was saved by an unreal throw to the plate by Chase Utley that stopped the tying run for scoring. The second “win” was after he pitched the 8th inning in a tie game, and the Phils won in the 9th on a bases loaded 60ft chopper up the third baseline by Carlos Ruiz.

  11. Chris - May 12, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    And all that happens in the 2 seconds between the sign being given and the pitch being thrown. Sorry guys, doesn’t work that way. It only happens when there is a runner on second and the pitcher/catcher are too stupid to change up their signs.

  12. Ace - May 12, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    There’s no national media conspiracy against Philadelphia. That Bruins incident you mention was ignored because it happened at a hockey game. Nobody cares about hockey. The fact that this happened at a hockey game actually made it LESS newsworthy than it would have been had it occurred at any other venue in the country(high school locker room, Denny’s parking lot), because the NHL is a black hole of national interest.

  13. 60eagles - May 12, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    The Phillies dynasty will continue despite all the crap being written here by a bunch of losers. The team is just filled with great stars you moonbats only can dream about.

  14. Mike G. - May 12, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    The proof would either be Victorino caught on camera flashing a sign to one of the coaches on the field or to a runner on base. Without that, MLB has jack.

  15. Cheap Seat Chronicles - May 12, 2010 at 10:54 AM

    what the shit is a moonbat?!

  16. Mike G. - May 12, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    “Do you know why I stopped you?”
    “No sir, officer.”
    “I think you were doing 45 MPH in a 30 MPH zone back there. I didn’t have my radar detector on and I had my car parked around the corner so my visibility was pretty bad, but it looks like you were going kind of fast.”
    “Um, OK.”
    “I’m going to give you a warning this time, son. Just try to slow down in the future…if indeed you were speeding, which I can’t really prove for all the reasons I mentioned above.”

  17. smsetnor - May 12, 2010 at 11:44 AM

    False analogy. Try again.

  18. David - May 12, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    I heard the Phillies have inquired about buying a predator drone to do survellence on other teams.

  19. Mike - May 12, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    The evidence may have been inconclusive, but what was stated in the article was very shady behavior on the part of the Phillies.
    Two things you should never see in a ballpark during the course of a game:
    1) A coach with binoculars
    2) A non-coach on the bullpen phone
    I highly doubt the bullpen coach was scouting for “talent” in the stands as much as I doubt Victorino was ordering a pizza.
    If you steal signs on the field, so be it. It’s part of the game. If I catch you doing it, you’re getting earholed. To hell with the ribs…

  20. Ed Haskins - May 12, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    Why can’t I share this article on Facebook? Get with it NBC Sports…let’s get some Social Media buttons attached to your stories!

  21. beezo - May 12, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    I think the phillies have been doing this for a while. I know last year during the nlcs, russel martin was going through a sequence of signs for every pitch, even with nobody on base.

  22. Pilothawkeye - May 12, 2010 at 12:48 PM

    If I recall correctly, wasn’t there a column on this forum last year regarding the same topic? Stealing signs in baseball has been an integral part of baseball for well over 100 years. With all of the HD TV coverage today, and 99.99% of all pitches are shown from the center field camera, all one has to do is sit in the clubhouse, watch the game, and relay the signs. In the “gentleman’s” version of MLB, one would try to steal signs the old-fashioned way, but our society as a whole frowns upon those that try to play fair, and the ‘must win at all costs’ mantra takes precedent nowaday. So, in fairness to those who are technology challanged (ie no money in the budget), lets do away with signs totally. The game would then go something like this:
    Pitcher: I am going to throw a fastball right down the middle, hey batter, are you going to take, or swing away?
    Batter: Swing away, going to hit the ball to right.
    2nd baseman: hitting to right? I better move over a few steps.
    Pitcher to runner on first: Are you going to steal on this pitch, or stay at first?
    Pitcher to batter (same situation): Are you going to bunt the runner along, take the pitch, or swing away?
    Batter: nah, coach wants me to do a hit and run
    Catcher: hit and run? hey pitcher, better pitch this one outside, so I can get the runner
    etc, etc, etc
    Now, how riduculous is this??
    Bottom line is that the use of binoculars from the bullpen is excessive, and definitely, unsportsmanlike!!!!
    We need to go back to being gentlemen again, competitive, but still being gentlemen.

  23. RP - May 12, 2010 at 1:09 PM

    I agree that the basis for the judgement on the Red Sox is that Ortiz and Manny were the key to their two titles. But Clemens was clearly implicated in the Mitchell Report, and he played a decent-sized role on 2 Yankee WS champions.
    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.

  24. nan - May 12, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    Would it be wrong to assume the Phillies and Patriots are fans of each other?
    Heck, maybe thats where the Phillies got the idea from.
    For me this puts their dominance and world series win in question.
    Next they’ll be hiring someone to sit in the stands with binoculars and a wire.

  25. Lorraine Dischert - May 12, 2010 at 1:44 PM

    I love the idea about Phillies Phans in centerfield all bringing binoculars to the games!!! OH, PLEASE DO IT!~!!!

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