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Been Caught Stealing: MLB warns Phillies about stealing signs

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Major League Baseball has reportedly issued a warning to the Philadelphia Phillies over accusations of sign-stealing, a time-honored practice that isn't formally forbidden by the rulebook. If a team gets reprimanded for stealing signs, then generally they're either doing it too brazenly or too well (or both).

Tracy Ringolsby of Fox Sports reports that during Monday night's telecast of the Phillies-Rockies game, Philadelphia bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was caught using binoculars to look in at Colorado catcher Miguel Olivo(notes) during the second inning. The camera also apparently caught centerfielder Shane Victorino(notes) in the dugout on the bullpen phone. If you accept the notion that the simplest explanation is usually correct, then, well … the Phillies were pretty much nailed. Guilty. Shame. Dishonor.

But of course Philadelphia won the game, 9-5, so that should take away the sting of the warning (which is kind of like a traffic warning. It's not a real penalty). Ringolsby spoke with a baseball official who had this to say:

"We have looked at the video and talked to the Phillies about the actions of their bullpen coach,’’ a Major League Baseball official told FOXSports.com.

"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.’’

The Phillies will probably limit their thievery for a few days, the Rockies will change their signs, and maybe a batter will get plunked. And then Philadelphia will resume business as usual. The team was similarly accused during last year's World Series, and in 2008 by the Red Sox, and in 2007 by the division-rival Mets.

Earlier this season, after New York ace Johan Santana(notes) gave up 10 runs to the Phillies over 3.2 innings, the Mets reportedly complained to the league again about sign-swiping. (This should be a small comfort to those who own Santana in fantasy leagues).

But as we mentioned earlier, stealing signs is not an issue specifically covered by the rules. There was, however, a memo on the subject issued ten years ago by Sandy Alderson, then MLB's vice president of baseball operations:

"Please be reminded that the use of electronic equipment during a game is restricted. No club shall use electronic equipment, including walkie-talkies and cellular telephones, to communicate to or with any on-field personnel, including those, in the dugout, bullpen, field and — during the game — the clubhouse.

"Such equipment may not be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a club an advantage.

"Monitors for videotape of batters/pitchers should be in the clubhouse or, if in the tunnel, well away from the dugout and view of players/coaches on the bench. No television camera replay should ever be turned toward the dugout."

Still, no mention of binoculars or land lines.

Stealing signs is actually a Philadelphia tradition that dates back to 1900. Back then, the Phillies used — and this is not a joke — a system that involved opera glasses, a telegraph, an electric buzzer and Morgan Murphy, a back-up catcher, to steal and convey information on pitches.

You'd think a franchise that's been stealing signs for 110 years would have learned to be a bit more subtle.

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