[I got the news about Major League Baseball’s announcement that the Boston Red Sox had admitted that some of the team’s employers and players had engaged in illegal sign-stealing about an hour before the Sox-Blue Jays game was scheduled. My intent was to write the post about it last night after the game. The game, however, went 19 innings and lasted 6 hours. (The Sox won, and absent this scandal, it would have been a big news story itself, one of the most important victories of the year and one that set several team records.) So the post didn’t get written, and believe it or not, I have occasional priorities and commitments that take precedent over my profit and income free ethics blog. Thus I consider the multiple e-mails and Facebook messages I have received accusing me of ducking the issue less than amusing, an unwarranted attack on my integrity. To all of those individuals, most of whom barely read the news reports, I say, “Bite me.”]
Yesterday afternoon the New York Times broke the following story, which reads in part:
Investigators for Major League Baseball have determined that the Red Sox, who are in first place in the American League East and very likely headed to the playoffs, executed a scheme to illicitly steal hand signals from opponents’ catchers in games against the second-place Yankees and other teams, according to several people briefed on the matter.
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 between the two teams 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. The trainer then relayed a message to other players in the dugout, who, in turn, would signal teammates on the field about the type of pitch that was about to be thrown, 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 Red Sox players — an operation that had been in place for at least several weeks.
As reported by ESPN, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement,
“We actually do not have a rule against sign-stealing. It has been a part of the game for a very, very long time. To the extent that there was a violation of the rule here, it was a violation by one or the other [team] that involved the use of electronic equipment. It’s the electronic equipment that creates the violation. I think the rule against electronic equipment has a number of policy reasons behind it, but one of them is we don’t want to escalate attempts to figure out what a pitcher is going to throw by introducing electronics into that mix.To the extent there was a violation on either side, we are 100 percent comfortable that it’s not an ongoing issue, that if it happened, it is no longer. I think that’s important from an integrity perspective going forward.”
This is a complicated story, and part of not one complicated ethics category, but several: technology ethics, baseball ethics, cheating, and general ethics. In the interests of clarity, I’m going to cover the story in a series of short observations, each with a heading. At the end of this post, I have posted a long published essay I authored about baseball ethics within the culture of the game. Those who are not familiar with these issues, which are fascinating, might want to read that first. it is helpful background information.
Points and Observations:
- Traditional sign-stealing in baseball is not regarded as cheating. This seems counter intuitive because of the word “stealing.” Sign-stealing refers to teams decoding the signals given by the catcher to the pitcher (regarding what kind of pitches to throw and where ), and the coach or the dugout to a batter or baserunner (in bunt and hit-and run plays). Theoretically, knowing the other team’s signals provides an advantage, as to a batter who knows that the next pitch will be a curve rather than a fastball. Usually, signs from the catcher to the pitcher are in jeopardy when there is a runner on second base. He can see the catcher’s signs as well as the pitcher can. Catchers use finger-signs in various combinations to ask for various pitches, and position their gloves to indicate where they want the balls thrown. If the runner at second can signal to the batter what the catcher has told the pitcher to throw, the batter may have an advantage.
This is why catchers often go to the pitching mound when a runner is on second base. They change the signs. The second baseman will often join them, because it is his job to know what pitch is being thrown so he can signal (usually behind his back, using his hand) to his team’s outfielders. An outside fastball makes it unlikely that the batter will pull the ball, for example.
Sign-stealing on the field, using just eyesight and hands, is what players call “the game within the game.” Joe Girardi, the Yankee manager, said in an interview yesterday that he just assumes every team is trying to steal signs, whether they are or not. Continue reading →