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The Boston Red Sox are the latest Major League Baseball team to be embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal. The Red Sox are alleged to have used the video replay room to steal opponent’s signs during the 2018 season, according to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic.
The team sent players to the video replay room — which is usually housed near the dugout — to study signs and relay information back to their teammates, according to three people with the Red Sox during the 2018 season. While this practice wasn’t uncommon around the league, MLB cracked down on it prior to the 2018 season, sending out memos strictly forbidding players from using the video replay room to steal signs.
The Red Sox’s method for relaying those signs to hitters wasn’t as loud or obvious as the Houston Astros’ tactic of banging on a trash can. The Red Sox were more subtle when relaying information.
Typically, the player who stole the signs would then walk back to the dugout to inform their teammates. Once runners got on base, they would pass along the signs based on their position on the base, according to The Athletic.
The runner would let the hitter know if he was aware of the sequence. “Put two feet on the bag or look out into center field, and do something that’s subtle,” as one Red Sox source described it.
The runner stepping off the bag with the right foot first could mean fastball; left foot first, a breaking ball or off-speed pitch.
This wasn’t the only method the team used. Red Sox hitters reportedly discussed their communication methods before each game.
Curiously, the three members of the Red Sox who spoke to The Athletic claimed the team could not use that sign-stealing method during the 2018 postseason. The Red Sox went on to win the World Series that season.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told Sports Illustrated on Tuesday that it will investigate the allegations “with the same thoroughness and vigor that we did Houston.”
The three-month Astros investigation, characterized by Manfred as “probably the most thorough investigation that the commissioner’s office has ever undertaken,” reportedly included interviews with 60 people, the acquisition of more than 70,000 emails and the seizure of some club employees’ phones.
The Red Sox released a statement Tuesday saying the team was unaware of the sign stealing, and will cooperate with MLB’s investigation.
Statement from the Boston Red Sox: “We were recently made aware of allegations suggesting the inappropriate use of our video replay room. We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with MLB as they investigate the matter.”
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 7, 2020
The explosion of technology has made it much easier for teams to steal signs. While there was plenty of uncertainty from the league on whether this was acceptable initially, MLB has cracked down in recent years. On top of telling teams not to use the video replay room to relay signs, MLB started sending employees to monitor the replay room in each park.
This tactic wasn’t always effective, as those employees didn’t always stay in the room 100 percent of the time. The MLB employees were also inconsistent in their actions. Some monitors would allow teams to get away with whispering or relaying signs. Others were strict and would report teams for everything.
MLB realizes this is a problem. In order to curb sign stealing, the league is working to develop technology that would encode pitcher-catcher communication, reported Hannah Keyser of Yahoo Sports. The methods proposed by MLB — including earpieces or a series of lights on the mound — would completely eliminate the need for visible signs, thus making it harder for teams to cheat.
Until MLB can perfect that technology, the league is stuck with its current system. While MLB has gotten more serious about preventing sign stealing, the league apparently hasn’t done enough to discourage teams from using technology to get an edge.
Given the amount of teams that have benefited from the practice, the league will have to find better ways to prevent teams from skirting the rules. That won’t stop clubs from coming up with new ways to cheat, but at least MLB can make teams work harder to get ahead.
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