This past week, I ran a poll on my Rhode Island Baseball Experience Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/RIBaseballExperience/ ) asking fans about stealing signs. Here is the question I posed for the poll:
“When there is a runner on second base, a catcher will often call time out and head out to the pitcher’s mound. The purpose – to give an indicator or number sequence which translates into what pitch the catcher would like the pitcher to throw. Why is this done? Because the runner on second base, for the majority, can see a catcher placing one finger between his legs and can then relay that message to the batter by lifting off his helmet or clapping or yelling “Arizona” thus letting the batter know that a fastball is coming. Some do and some don’t. Catchers flash a series of fingers, touch their mask, do another series of fingers so the runner on second base cannot clue in the batter that a fastball is coming. Do you consider the runner on second base, who relays a sign to the batter to be caught in the act of baseball cheating or do you consider this to be just a part of the game? Consider this – it happens in all levels of baseball from youth to the Pros.”
Here are a few comments that fans posted about the survey:
- ” Sign stealing has always been part of the game… I have done it and I, as a catcher, have had my signs stolen. Where Houston went overboard is the technology used to do it. “
- ” Part of the game. Smart coaches or players just change the signs. Always have several sets of signs to use during a course of a game.”
Fans had two options to vote on. A. Stealing signs is cheating. B. Stealing signs in just part of the game of baseball. The results are in. Out of 19 votes, 15 voted that stealing signs is just part of the game. 4 voted that stealing signs is cheating. As far as this survey goes, the majority has spoken and has stated that stealing signs is not cheating, it is just part of the game.
A few observations during a baseball game will help support this majority vote. If you peer down at the third base coach during any game from approximately minor leagues to the professional ranks, you will see a coach giving a set of signs to his/her batter. Why doesn’t the third base coach just give one sign to the batter? Or simply call out “bunt” or “swing away” or “take one strike?” The obvious answer is the third base coach does not want the pitcher nor the defensive infield nor the opposing coach to know what his intentions are for his/her batter. So, the third base coach will touch his/her nose, clap twice, yell out “Oklahoma Sooner” and point to the batter, signalling that he/she wants the batter to bunt. The defensive infield, pitcher, and opposing coaches watch the set of signs and make mental notes as the signs and calls of the third base coach. If they see anything they can use defensively, they will meet and relay those findings to each other. Nothing illegal here, no cheating going on whatsoever.
There is a runner on first and second with less than 2 outs in a close baseball game. Again, pick just about any level from youth baseball to the professional levels. An obvious bunt situation for most teams looking to advance the runners into better scoring position to either tie the game or build on a lead. In this bunt situation, the runners need to be aware of the coach’s intention for the batter to bunt as much as the batter needs to know. Getting a quality lead or jump as soon as the pitch is thrown can mean the difference sometimes between a successful bunt or an easy force out at third, even second base. So, once again, all eyes are on the third base coach – the batter, the runners on base, the defensive infield, the opposing coaching staff – watching and waiting for the indicator and the bunt sign to emerge. The third base goes through an elaborate series of signs, which amount to no play being called. But, the defensive infield, the opposing coaching staff has guessed wrong. They move into a defensive positioning to field a bunt, moving the third basemen in toward the plate, the shortstop moves toward the third base bag, leaving a huge gap in the infield between third and second base. The batter then swings away and grounds a simple ball through the open gap, allowing the runner from second to score easily on the play. A series of fake signs fools the defense, nothing illegal here, no cheating going on whatsoever. Just part of the game of baseball.
Videotaping a catcher from the centerfield bleachers during a game, performing a detailed analysis of those signs, then relaying that information to be used during a game would certainly constitute as stealing signs and quite possibly cheating. However, teams and scouts videotaping the opposing team is nothing new. The main difference would be if the information were utilized in real time, during game action, to affect the outcome of a play or the game itself. This is where the cheating debate begins to heat up. Players and coaches can watch and hawk the signs given by catchers, infielders, opposing coaches during a game and try to figure them out. But once technology is introduced to speed up the process of discovery, this is where most have an issue with sign stealing.
Thank you to everyone who voted and participated in this sign stealing debate. If I know one thing about baseball, the art of stealing signs will always been a controversial subject to debate.