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Baseball’s “Sign” of the Times

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“Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”
– Five Man Electrical Band

This week’s latest soap opera moment, coming on the heels of the A-Rod crossing the mound debacle, has to do with the Philadelphia Phillies stealing signs during a game against the Colorado Rockies. As a Mets fan, I am not usually in a position to defend the Phillies (even when Phils manager Charlie Manuel accused the Mets of sign stealing too), but aren’t teams giving signs in a public way? If a third base coach is touching his nose, ears, lips, and toes, isn’t that in full view of all in the park?

Of course, technology is or seems to be what is coming into play here. No, the Phillies aren’t going all CIA with eavesdropping equipment or using computer wizardry to do this; it seems it’s a pair of old-fashioned binoculars causing all the stir, and what’s allegedly being stolen are the ever sacred catcher’s signs to the pitcher.

Okay, since it’s Friday, just the facts, ma’am. During a game in Colorado earlier this week, the local Rockies network cameras showed shots of a Philadelphia coach using binoculars in the bullpen. Now, I don’t want to pry into Mick Billmeyer’s personal life either, but it just could be he was checking out that cute little blonde in the stands behind home plate. How the heck can they be sure what Billmeyer was looking at?

Well, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd called Major League Baseball and lodged a complaint. After what seems to be a quick review of the “case” against the Phils, a “warning” was issued for the Phillies to lose the binoculars or else. Duhn-duhn-duhn-duhn!

In checking the rules of baseball, with which I am somewhat familiar, I have not found anything official about sign stealing. My feeling is that if it is something publicly visible in the ballpark, then it is open to being “stolen” by anyone in the park, including the strange guy in the bullpen with the binoculars.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am a Mets fan, and I do recall a while back when my own team accused the Phillies of doing this same thing in Citizens Bank Park. It appeared in our local newspapers a few years ago, and there was just another log on the fire of the combustible Mets-Phillies rivalry, but as far as I recall this never went into an official complaint to MLB.

I believe sign stealing is probably happening in baseball and always has happened: just like spitballs, nails embedded in pitcher gloves, and pine tar where it shouldn’t be. It’s the nature of the game to steal; I mean, Lou Brock made a career out of it.

So, as in that good old Five Man Electrical Band song that featured signs telling people what or what not to do (“Long-haired freaky people need not apply”), baseball teams could put huge signs up alongside “No Pepper” warning “No Sign Stealing” or “No Binoculars!” These will probably work as well as the ones here in New York City that say “No Jaywalking,” but that’s for another article.

For now I think we should just let the whole thing slide, but as with the Mets-Phillies rivalry, soap opera moments in baseball only add to the drama. Man, what a waste of time. Don’t they know we only have one life to live?

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Well, you nailed it. If it’s not against the rules, and MLB wants to do something about it, then make sign stealing against the rules. Have that runner on second base bow his head in shame and stare not at the catcher’s groin.

  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ FCEtier

    I officiate high school football. Here is a quote from a friend of mine that also umpires baseball. He knows the rules:
    “Stealing signs is not illegal. There’s a reason why the third base coach goes through his gyrations and there’s a similar reason why pitchers and catchers change their signs when there’s a runner on second base – to keep the other team from knowing what you’re doing.

    Throughout baseball history there have been many players who were very adept at stealing signs. Like many things in baseball, there’s an unwritten rule for that. Simply stated, the use of binoculars and telescopes is a no-no. Forget video. That’s a huge no-no. But just hanging out the dugout or standing on second base and figuring out the opponents signs is accepted.” — W.P.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    “Like many things in baseball, there’s an unwritten rule for that.”

    I think the problem lies in the “unwritten” part, just like that thing with A-Rod crossing the mound.

    I think “no binoculars” or “no telescopes” should be in there (the rule book), along with all this unwritten stuff.

    If it is “etiquette” or “ethics,” then be fair to everyone and put it in black and white so everyone can be on the same page.