Report: Red Sox used Apple Watch to steal Yankees signs in elaborate scheme

Mike Oz

Is Major League Baseball getting its own Spygate-style drama starring the Boston Red Sox?

MLB investigators have decided the Red Sox used an elaborate and tech-savvy scheme to steal signs from the rival New York Yankees, according to a startling new report from the New York Times. Mum is the word on this outside of The Times. The Red Sox, the Yankees and MLB officials aren’t yet talking about the matter, but The Times has “people familiar with the case” on record spilling the details.

A Red Sox trainer is alleged to have used his Apple Watch to receive information from the team’s video staff about the Yankees signs, then passed it along to Red Sox players in the dugout.

Sign-stealing in baseball is generally regarded as gamesmanship when it happens organically — i.e. a player on second base paying attention to the signs the opposing catcher uses — but when technology gets involved, that’s when MLB has to act. Players and coaches have long been prohibited from using electronic devices in the dugout for these exact reasons.

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Here are the details of the case, as written by Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times, the same reporter who broke the story about the St. Louis Cardinals hacking into the Houston Astros’ player databases:

The baseball inquiry began about two weeks ago, after the Yankees’ general manager, Brian Cashman, filed a detailed complaint with the commissioner’s office that included video the Yankees shot of the Red Sox dugout during a three-game series in Boston last month.

The Yankees, who had long been suspicious of the Red Sox stealing catchers’ signs in Fenway Park, contended the video showed a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout and then relaying a message to players, who may have then been able to use the information to know the type of pitch that was going to be thrown when they were hitting, according to the people familiar with the case.

Baseball investigators corroborated the Yankees’ claims based on video the commissioner’s office uses for instant replay and broadcasts, the people said. The commissioner’s office then confronted the Red Sox, who admitted that their trainers had received signals from video replay personnel and then relayed that information to some players — an operation that had been in place for at least several weeks.

The Red Sox responded in kind on Tuesday, filing a complaint against the Yankees, claiming that the team uses a camera from its television network, YES, exclusively to steal signs during games.

The Boston Red Sox are accused of using an Apple Watch to relay the opposing team's signs through their dugout. (AP)
The Boston Red Sox are accused of using an Apple Watch to relay the opposing team’s signs through their dugout. (AP)

According to the Times’ sources, Red Sox manager John Farrell and general manager Dave Dombrowski weren’t aware of what was going on, making it sound like the trainer was working directly with Red Sox players and the team’s video staff.

The genesis of the complaint against the Red Sox stems from the Aug. 18-20 at Fenway against the Yankees. The Red Sox won 2-of-3 and were 5-for-9 with runners in scoring positions in the first game of the series. As the Times notes, the Red Sox were a less-impressive 4-for-16 in the next two games with runners on second base.

After the story hit Tuesday, Farrell said in his pre-game media briefing that this is “a league matter” and that he knew the players were trying to steal signs, but he didn’t know about the Apple Watch.

According to Red Sox reporter Rob Bradford of WEEI, it sounds like Boston’s defense here will be that the Yankees were doing it too — which is a similar defense to what the Cardinals used in the hacking scandal. That they just wanted to see if the Astros were using their private info.

Or perhaps, they’ll just laugh the whole thing under the rug:

The Yankees’ Brett Gardner, however, said using electronic devices goes beyond baseball’s “game within a game.”

The big question, if the Times’ report is accurate, becomes: “What should MLB do about this?”

There’s little precedent for sign-stealing punishments in baseball, and certainly nothing as modern as this. The Cardinals-Astros case might provide some insight, although it’s a different sort of actions in a different sort of circumstances. In that case, the Cardinals’ scouting director broke the law and was sent to prison for hacking. The Cardinals eventually had to send two draft picks and $2 million to the Astros.

The penalties here could include anything from fines and draft picks to the possibility of vacated wins, the Times report says, although there’s little precedent for that either. The punishment could ultimately depend on how often MLB can prove that the Red Sox stole signs in this manner.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!