The MLB commissioner’s office confirmed Thursday that the Red Sox used an Apple Watch in a sign-stealing operation during a three-game series against the Yankees in Boston from August 18-August 20.
It is unclear whether the league intends to further investigate the Red Sox’ scheme, which The New York Times says the team had been running for “at least several weeks.” An MLB official told USA Today the team had also employed the scheme against a number of teams besides the Yankees.
Tuesday, Boston has lodged a counter-complaint with the commissioner’s office accusing the Yankees of using YES broadcast cameras to steal signs. The Yankees denied the allegations.
“We will conduct a thorough investigation on both sides,” Manfred said.
The league launched its investigation into the Red Sox’ scheme after Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman lodged a complaint with the commissioner’s office about two weeks ago, the Times reports.
The complaint included video the Yankees shot of Boston’s dugout during the series in question. According to the Times, the video shows a Red Sox trainer, Jon Jochim, looking at his Apple Watch, and then signaling to players on the field.
According to the Times, The Red Sox have admitted to stealing signs, and to using technology to do so. The team told league investigators that manager John Farrell and a few front-office executives were unaware of the operation.
Farrell said he knew players were stealing signs but unaware they were using technology to do so.
Since cameras have become pervasive in Major League parks, many teams, the Times says, have assigned personnel to monitor video feeds. They use these to pick up signs, particularly those delivered from the catcher to the pitcher regarding the types of pitches to be thrown.
The catcher uses a code to conceal his signs. By recording the type of pitch thrown when the catcher displays a given sign, opposing teams can crack that code.
Couriers on foot relay information concerning the code from the video booth to the dugout, but those couriers must run fast if they are to deliver the information while it is still relevant.
By using an Apple Watch, the Red Sox shortened the time it took to relay the information. Presumably, those monitoring the video feed would send information to Jochim’s Apple Watch. Jochim would in turn signal players on the field.
Like sign-stealing operations of old, the Red Sox’s new one can probably be employed only when a runner is on second base. Such a baserunner is the only member of the team who can read the signs, decode them, and relay them to the batter in a timely fashion.
(For more information on the workings of the Red Sox’s operation, consult this New York Times piece.)
In the aforementioned mid-August series, Rafael Devers was the first Red Sox hitter to come to the plate with a man on second. His at-bat took place in the second inning of game one. Xander Bogaerts stood across the diamond from Devers, having doubled in the prior at-bat. Devers drilled a home run to left on the fourth pitch of his at-bat.
The Red Sox went 5-8 (.525) with a runner on second base in that game, the Times notes.
In game two, the Sox were 1-6 with a man on second, the Times says. In game three, the team was 3-10 in said scenario.
Sign-stealing has been ubiquitous in baseball for as long as anyone can remember. MLB rules do not prohibit the practice, as long as teams do not use any means beyond the naked eye to carry it out.
The Times notes that in 2001 The Wall Street Journal reported that the 1951 New York Giants, who erased a 13.5 game deficit in their division in the final two months of the regular season and went on to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a playoff to win the NL pennant, had spies at the Polo Grounds who used a telescope to steal signs.
In 1997, per the Times, a number of teams filed official complaints accusing the Mets of using small cameras positioned near home plate to record opposing catchers’ signals. The Mets denied having used the cameras for such a purpose, and MLB did not take action.
In 2011, teams around the league accused the Phillies of using binoculars and other unauthorized aids to steal signs, but MLB did not discipline the team.
It remains unclear whether the league will levy any penalty against the Red Sox. Commissioner Rob Manfred told the Times that while the league has the authority to discipline teams for stealing signs, there is no precedent for doing so.
“Could it happen? You know, is there the authority to do that? I think the answer to that, under the major league constitution, is yes,” he said. “Has it ever happened with this type of allegation? I think the answer is — I know the answer is no.”
“And the reason for that,” he added, “is it’s just very hard to know what the actual impact on any particular game was of an alleged violation.”
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