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SB Nation Reacts: Is stealing signs bad?

There are worse things. Using foreign substances, for one.

Semaphore Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images

There was a bit of a fuss recently, though since it was in the AL East, you might be forgiven for not noticing. Yankees’ slugger Aaron Judge was accused of stealing signs against the Toronto Blue Jays. He looked over into the Yankees’ dugout immediately before hitting a homer, and the Blue Jays commentators speculated he was being fed information on what pitch to expect. Toronto manager Josh Schneider contacted MLB “about monitoring New York’s actions moving forward. Schneider’s biggest concern seemed with the positioning of New York’s base coaches, implying New York’s first and third base coaches may have been drifting outside of their allocated boxes to pick up information to help the batters.”

This helped reignite the long ongoing discussion regarding the stealing of signs, and that was the subject of this week’s set of SB Nation Reacts questions. Let’s get straight into the results for the first one, which asked how prevalent sign stealing is in the major leagues.

An almost even split between a belief everyone does it, and the rather vague “not totally unusual”. It’s interesting, in that the introduction of PitchCom was supposed to provide a secure means of communication between the pitcher and defense, allowing them to select pitches without the risk of the opposition tapping into the conversation. As far as I know, its use is now almost universal around the leagues, so one wonders how the Yankees were able to know what was coming. Maybe the Blue Jays tech staff made a mistake in configuring their PitchCom devices to connect to a wifi network in Rogers Center called “Totally Real MLB PitchCom”?

Most fans don’t seem to have a problem with the old, manual approach, where a team would observe the opposing staff. There’s a reason why catchers would adopt a complex series of hand signals when there was an opposing hitter on second-base, with a good view of what signs were being put down. This doesn’t feel too different from the art of pitch-tipping, where a team will look at a pitcher and see if, say, he holds his glove a different way before he throws a slider, compared to a fastball. But the Astros scheme, where a video camera in center field was monitored by staff behind the dugout, who then relayed the information to hitters using a trash can, is still considered unacceptable.

The (again, vague) “there’s a gray area” comes out on top. Personally, if there are laws against it - be they federal or MLB - then I’d say it’s wrong. But fans are right: there has always been a gray area. Why was it acceptable for players to steal signs from the third-base coach, but the unwritten rules deemed it beyond the pale for a batter to peek at the signs being put down by the catcher? Hey, who said unwritten rules made logical sense. But, once more, the arrival of PitchCom should have ended that particular discussion. But on the other hand, there are also other ways of cheating apart from stealing signs. Just ask “Ringworm” Tatis Jr... Or there’s this:

The other 18% are Yankees fans. :)

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