baseball's general managers met in Florida to mull changes to the game. The
proposals included instant replay and the use at every park of ball-storage
humidors like those in Colorado. As usual, fear of controversy will kill most
of the new ideas. And as usual, the G.M.'s didn't discuss a rule so
uncontroversial that most people assume it's already on the books: banning the
theft of catchers' signs by mechanical means.
flashed between plate and mound since the advent of the strike zone 148 years
ago. For almost as long, teams have tried to steal them. Doing so by the naked
eye has generally been applauded. But when a spyglass and buzzer were exposed
at a Phillies game in 1900, the game cried foul. When another telescope popped
up in New York nine years later, the American League Board of Directors passed
a resolution: Anyone "found guilty of operating a sign tipping bureau
should be barred from baseball for all time."
No official rule
was passed, and the process has repeated itself ever since. In 1962, after
rumors surfaced that the '51 Giants used a telescope to steal signs in their
playoff win over the Dodgers, commissioner Ford Frick suggested that a new rule
render "the practice illegal in strong language." In 2001 MLB vice
president Sandy Alderson reminded teams, "No club shall use electronic
equipment ... to communicate to or with any on field personnel."
But sign swiping
remains a problem. Last June the Cardinals, after being pummeled 33--11 by the
White Sox over two days, accused Chicago of posting a spy in the centerfield
scoreboard. The claim was ironic: Eight months earlier the White Sox were
convinced that the Rangers had used a flashing light to let hitters know what
pitch was coming.
Selig told me in 2005 that a rule was unnecessary: A team using a telescope or
camera "would be dealt with." His threat recalled that of Frick, who
said that if the charge against the '51 Giants was substantiated, "I would
forfeit the game, but I would have to have evidence." I uncovered that
evidence long after the commissioner died. (It's detailed in my book, The
Echoing Green.) It is a surety that the stealing of signs by mechanical means
will again affect play. It is time for baseball to ban what has time and again
been defined as cheating. As Christy Mathewson wrote in 1912, "All is fair
in love, war, and baseball, except stealing signals dishonestly."