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Don’t be so quick to condemn the Red Sox for sign-stealing controversy

The Athletic published yet another lengthy article today diving into the sign-stealing controversy they unearthed a few months back about those trash can banging Astros.

As a Yankees fan, this headline is eye catching because now the Red Sox are also implicated in the mess. Hurray! But before you start dunking on Red Sox fans on Twitter, I suggest you take a step back.

The article starts with reports from three anonymous people who were with Boston in 2018, stating that “at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using.” Unlike the Astros method of signaling the batter by banging a trash can or whistling, the Sox would take the info they gathered to the dugout where it would be discussed with teammates. When a player reached base he could then more easily decipher the catcher’s signs and relay that to the hitter through some subtle signal. This method isn’t all that different from how signs have been relayed for decades – the key difference is how the intel was obtained.

Back in 2017 the Red Sox and Yankees where punished for illegally using technology. The Red Sox were using Apple watches to relay information and the Red Sox accused the Yankees of improperly using their YES Network cameras. MLB came down on the clubs and used the incident to put the rest of the league on notice. As we know, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

What the Red Sox are accused of doing in 2018 is illegal, plain and simple. What the Astros did in 2017 (and possibly 2018-19) was so far across the line it makes what the Sox did look silly (but also smart). The reason I’m hesitant to take a victory lap is because the Yankees didn’t come out of this report clean.

Are the Yankees next?

Multiple sources told The Athletic that the Yankees used the video replay room as far back as 2015 to learn other teams’ sign sequences. An unnamed ex-Yankee is quoted: “I’m just telling you from a broad perspective, living it, it didn’t feel that wrong. … It was there for everyone, that’s all.”

Using the technology to review footage was illegal in 2015 when this source claims the Yankees were doing it. After the 2017 incident, MLB sent around a memo reinforcing the rule. They did so again before the 2019 season with another memo and the in-stadium monitors.

You may remember Brandon Taubman, the assistant GM fired by the Astros during the World Series for his scumbag comments. This article mentions his confrontation with a Yankees employee in 2018.

The Astros at that time believed the Yankees were using a camera to zoom in on the catcher’s signs. According to a source, MLB previously had given the Yankees approval to use the camera, which the team viewed as a coaching tool. The Astros did not push the matter with the league at the time, but during the course of the ongoing current investigation have brought it back to MLB’s attention, another source said.

It’s obviously ironic what the Astros were accusing the Yankees of, but it shows the suspicion all teams had of opponents. This quote from someone with the 2018 Red Sox sums it up perfectly: “You got a bunch of people who are really good at cheating and everybody knows that each other’s doing it. It’s really hard for anybody to get away with it at that point. … If you get a lion and a deer, then the lion can really take advantage of the deer. So there’s a lot of deers out there that weren’t paying attention throughout the season. In the playoffs, now you’re going against a lion.”

I’m guessing the Yankees are a lion, and frankly, I wouldn’t want them to be a deer.

Pandora’s Box

As with any investigation, you’re likely to find something more to the story. I would have been shocked if the Astros and only the Astros were found to be illegally stealing and relaying signs. I’ll be surprised if the Red Sox are the last team to be implicated.

When players go from team to team, they bring along knowledge. One American League executive was quoted in the article: “Oftentimes it takes a player to show up and be like ‘You f—— morons, you’re not doing this?'”

What should MLB do?

This is not an easy question to answer. Last season MLB implemented in-person monitors at all stadiums to watch the replay rooms to make sure teams weren’t breaking the rules. They were found to be inconsistent and ineffective in many ways. Teams still found ways around the rules, just like players did with steroids back in the 1990s and 2000s.

It seems this problem arose in 2014 when MLB implemented instant replay challenges. Because the replay rooms were equipped with these game feeds, players were able to make the short walk from the dugout to view any replay they wanted. It opened up endless opportunities to gain advantages. I’m sure MLB will regulate these rooms even more in 2020, but I’m not hopeful it will solve the issue.

I would take out the replay rooms from stadiums entirely. While I’m at it, take away the manager challenge system too. All reviews should be MLB or umpire driven. If a call is egregiously missed, it should be fixed and there should be no limit to the number of plays that can be fixed. If the umpire crew misses 25 consecutive calls, they should all be fixed. But I’m tired of these ticky-tack replays because the runner took his foot off the bag for a millisecond and I’m tired of replay seemingly not getting the call correct. Remove the in-stadium replay room and challenges and you help to fix this sign-stealing issue.