50 years ago in baseball fields in major US cities, college towns, and one horse towns professional baseball teams stole signs. Heck, 100 years ago they stole signs. Sign stealing is not a new concept in professional baseball. Players in opposing dugouts watch and observe and maybe take notes as to what the third base coach is doing during a batter’s at-bat. Base runners leading off second base try to catch a signal from the catcher some 100 feet away to then relay a message to his teammate at bat. Teams tried to get an advantage by figuring out a series of signs that meant “steal” or “bunt” or “hit and run” or “curveball.” This is not a new concept in baseball, whether we are referring to your local youth baseball league or the professionals making a $1,000 per swing.
However, we all live in an era with unprecedented access to information technology. Ballparks throughout those same major US cities, college towns, and one horse towns now have cameras upon cameras lining their facilities. Every angle in a professional baseball ball park is covered. Most minor league and high level college programs have enough cameras to catch a majority of the action on the field as well. The foul lines, the bleachers, the entire outfield, even the bases have cameras for Pete’s sake. High definition cameras that can zoom into ridiculous closeness and telecast the most finite details of a stadium, down to a drop of dew on a blade of grass in early May. Production crews scan the stadium fandom for a goofy guy dancing or a baby sleeping during a pivotal part of a playoff game or a couple arguing or whatever will make the transition from bullpen call to relief pitcher pitching seem less boring. And these cameras are always on and always recording.
Let’s not forget that just about every person in the stands has a smart phone capable of taking photos and videos. Photos and videos are taken by fans, then posted to their friends and families instantly. And bloggers like me just take random photos and videos for future articles. Two fans aggressively chasing a foul ball hit by Mike Trout – you can bet their buddy is videotaping it to post on social media. Daughter’s first game – yep there is going to be a hundred photos and perhaps videos taken at the game to commemorate the memory. A major milestone event, like a 3,000th hit or 600th home run – OMG there are 60,000 photographers shooting that shot!!! Cameras are being used in every seat, every concession stand line, every single section of every single baseball park in the USA.
So is it surprising to anyone who lives in this era of incredible exposure to everything that a professional team (or most likely teams) got caught in a sign stealing scandal? If anything, I am surprised it took this long to catch someone. And the team(s) in question will not be the only team(s) implicated. Every baseball team in professional sports, college sports, or any other high profile league should meet this instance to flush out what they did, when they did it, who knew about it, and who else knew about it who is no longer with the organization and pass those answers over to their public relations departments and ownership groups. More teams will be investigated, players with stats through the roof will be investigated, managers who managed teams with no business being in the playoffs the past 5 years will be investigated. If the team(s) in question that have been outed so far won championships, it will begin the slippery slope wherein the fans of other cities will now claim “well Team X must have cheated because they won it in 2016 or 2012.” Reminiscent of the Steroid Era in baseball, where there were players who did not take steroids to enhance their performance, every player who hit well above average, recorded well above average home runs, was deemed a steroid user. After all, professional baseball players are represented by a union called the Major League Baseball Player’s Association so they are subject, in this case, to the phrase “guilty by association.”
If you think you can get away with it, think again. Just like posting something afoul on social media, it will come back to haunt you when you least expect it. These sign stealing folks that were implicated were directed to do so and the information that was used helped win a championship. Years later, those who directed this are now being punished and baseball people are losing their jobs and their dignity and their place in baseball. When reports came out about players using steroids, the stats that seemed so incredible became so disgusting for me and others who follow the game so closely. Those players did think they would get caught and did what they felt was necessary to get a competitive advantage over their competition. The same can be said about this sign stealing scandal. With all of the cameras and all of the footage at each game being shot by professional TV crews and Dads taking their daughter to her first game and baseball bloggers like me, do you really think you could get away with it? Think again.