Musings: The Great Sign Stealing Scandal

By Dick Flavin

Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate

and New York Times Best Selling Author


What do you do when a loved one breaks the law?

And gets caught red-handed? And the story is in all the newspapers, and on television, and in the social media?

You might get mad. You might be embarrassed. You might scold that loved one. You might sermonize about the importance of the rule of law.  You might do a lot of things.

But if you really love that someone, you keep on lovin’ ‘em.

That’s how I feel about the Boston Red Sox. They got caught stealing signs, which is not a crime in baseball, but using an Apple watch to do it is. This is how the scheme worked: A guy watching television in an office under the stands would see the opposing catcher’s signs to his pitcher and relay them to the Apple watch of a trainer in the dugout who would whisper it to a player on the bench who would signal a runner on second base who in turn would flash a signal to the batter. Seems pretty elaborate to me. And time consuming.

When I first heard about it I thought, “How could this possibly work?” The catcher flashes a sign, say for a fastball, then it goes from the guy under the stands to the trainer with the Apple watch to the player on the bench to the runner on second to the batter, all before the pitcher throws the pitch? Are you kidding? The inning would be over and we’d be half wat through the commercials by the time the process was completed.

Give me the way that the old New York Giants did it in 1951. A coach was stationed in the centerfield scoreboard with a telescope. When he saw the catcher’s sign he relayed it by buzzer to the bullpen catcher who signaled the batter by hanging an arm over the bullpen wall. Much more efficient but still against the laws of baseball because it used the then hi-tech technique of a buzzer system. It worked well enough that the Giants erased a 13½  game deficit and won the National League pennant that year. And the Giants paid no price for the scheme because it wasn’t uncovered until fifty years later.

It turns out, though, that the Red Sox system wasn’t designed to steal signals of specific pitches. When there is a runner on second he can see a catcher’s signals without using  either an Apple watch, a telescope or a buzzer system, so the catcher goes through an elaborate charade; he might want the pitcher to throw the second signal he flashes, or the third, or even the fourth, all to confuse the runner. The Red Sox system was to let the runner on second know what sequence of signals the catcher was using. Then, as this seasoned observer understands it (and I don’t understand much), it would be up to the runner to steal the signs the old-fashioned way.

This accounts for all those time-consuming meetings the catcher and pitcher hold on the mound. They want to make sure that they’re both clear on what sequence of signs is being used. Those meetings add to the length of games, and baseball is looking for ways to speed up the pace of play. Well, I have an idea that might help.

Outfit the pitcher and catcher with Apple watches.

That way they won’t have to have those infernal meetings on the mound and they can trade signals without fear of them being stolen.

But back to the scofflaw Red Sox. They got caught using electronic means to do something that is otherwise perfectly legal, steal signs, and the evidence is incontrovertable because it was electronically recorded. Their defense is that everyone does it, even their accusers, the New York Yankees. It’s a pretty weak defense. Even though it’s true. Meanwhile, Yankee general manager Brian Cashman is doing a fabulous  impression of Claude Rains in the movie Casablanca. He is shocked, shocked that such a thing would be going on in baseball.

I love the Red Sox but, let’s face it, they are guilty, guilty of breaking the Eleventh Commandment, the one Moses forgot to bring down from the mountain.

Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.