Phillies Stealing Signs? So What?

There is mischief afoot in Colorado! The Phillies Comcast broadcast last night reported that the Phils were concerned about the Rockies stealing signs (UPDATE: This was likely just Tom McCarthy making an error in judgment). Comments today have cited the Colorado Fox Sports affiliate “catching” bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sitting in the bullpen with a pair of binoculars and Shane Victorino in the dugout using the bullpen phone. Of course, this would not be the first time the Phils have been accused of cracking codes.

Last year, during the World Series, both the New York Yankees team and Los Angeles Dodgers third base coach Larry Bowa — a former Phillies shortstop and manager, and former Yankees third base coach — accused the Phils of stealing signs. That angered center fielder Shane Victorino, who pointed to the Phillies’ lack of success against the Yankees as evidence that they are clearly not guilty.

In 2008, the Boston Red Sox called the Phillies out for sign-stealing despite losing two of three games in the series. The New York Mets did the same in ’07 as the Phillies swept them in a crucial four-game series. The Mets had the most elaborate accusation (surprisingly). From the New York Post:

Allegedly, the camera in center field provides footage to a video room. A coach stationed in the corner of the Phillies’ dugout has a buzzer in his pocket. Based on the signal he receives from the video room, he then yells a code to the batter – such as his first name – to relay what pitch is coming. One Met said he’s heard from three different former Phillies in the past year alleging foul play at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies have been investigated several times but have never been found guilty. Stealing signs is only against baseball’s rules if electronic devices, such as cameras, are used. Joe Mauer, catcher for the Minnesota Twins, was famously “caught” last year in a game against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. Mauer relayed the location of the pitch to Jason Kubel by touching his helmet with his hand.

Preventing sign-stealing is easy, though. All it requires is for the “victims” to change their signs or to not use them at all. The Phillies went the latter route against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS last year. Per Danny Knobler:

The Phillies were so concerned about the Dodgers stealing their signs in the National League Championship Series that for one crucial at-bat, they gave no signs at all.

It was in the fifth inning of Game 5. The Phillies led 6-3, but Manny Ramirez came to the plate representing the tying run. Rafael Furcal, who the Phillies suspected of sign-stealing, was on second base.

When reliever Chad Durbin came into the game to face Ramirez, he and catcher Carlos Ruiz scripted the entire at-bat before it began. For the entire five-pitch at-bat, which ended with Ramirez bouncing back to the mound, Ruiz never gave one sign.
Stealing signs is a game of cat-and-mouse that will continue to thrive so long as non-electronic methods remain legal (and they should remain legal). Poker is a great example of how picking up little pieces of information can go a long way. Players and managers/coaches should be rewarded for alertness and punished for recklessness.

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21 comments

  1. Sophist

    May 11, 2010 08:55 PM

    Binocs are non-electronic, yeah? Or is the rule more broad?

  2. Sophist

    May 11, 2010 09:22 PM

    During the 1898 season, the Philadelphia Phillies were caught using a wiring system during a game with the Cincinnati Reds.

    “Tommy Corcoran, Cincinnati Reds infielder, was coaching at third base and kicking dust around, when the spikes of his shoes caught in something which at first seemed to be a thick vine.

    “Tommy looked down at his feet and on closer inspection found it was no vine, but a wire. He gave it a good yank and several yards of wire came out of the ground.

    “Corcoran halted the game, kept tugging away at the wire, and with players of both teams at his heels, traced the wire across the field right into the Phillies’ locker room. There they found Morgan Murphy, a reserve catcher who rarely did any catching, sitting with a telegraph instrument, along with a pair of strong opera glasses that completed his equipment.

    “But the cat was out of the bag. It eventually was learned that Murphy spied on opposing catchers and relayed their signals, via the wire, to the Philadelphia third base coach. A sort of a buzzer was under the dirt, and by keeping his foot on it, the coach knew one buzz meant a fastball, two a curve, three a change of pace. The coach signaled his information to the batsman, who usually knew what to expect.”

    findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FCI/is_6_60/ai_74090344/pg_2/?tag=content;col1

  3. Rob

    May 11, 2010 11:04 PM

    According to the article I read someone had binoculars out in the bullpen and Shane Victorino was seen on the bullpen phone. I don’t know exactly what the rule is, but i suppose phone could be considered a prohibited electronic device in this case.

    There’s no problem with stealing signs a la Mauer above, but binoculars and phone calls seems like a bit much..

  4. kmart

    May 12, 2010 12:18 AM

    Don’t make “1″ fastball and pitchers will be just fine. If you make it any easier than that, you deserve to have signs stolen.

  5. Philadelphia Cheaters

    May 12, 2010 09:19 AM

    So what? I know this is a Phillies blog so bias is inevitable but wow. At this point it is just an accusation so I guess the Phillies are innocent until proven guilty. However, if they really are using binoculars from the bullpen that isn’t even in the same realm as a runner stealing signs from second base. It is pretty common practice for catchers to switch up the signs with a runner on second. That is something you are at least aware of and can expect, and adjust accordingly. No one is expecting some spy to be posted up watching their every pitch until they figure out the signs.

  6. Ryan

    May 12, 2010 10:32 AM

    come on man, think about what you are saying.

    Billimeyer is standing, in plain view, with binoculars (which are legal for him to have and use, even to see signs), and then what? From the time the sign is given, Mick has MAYBE 3 seconds, to relay that information to someone in the pen, who relays it to someone on the phone (all game? in plain view?) who relays it to the hitter, all before the pitcher finishes his wind up and in enough time for the hitter to hear it and process it?

    Come on now… this is just silly. By the time the signal is agreed to and the pitcher starts his wind up, there isn’t NEARLY enough time to get that info to the hitter. Period.

    And to assume that they would cheat, with 2 people out in the open relaying signs is, again, stupid. Why would they risk it? And if they did it, one time – when Vic was seen on the phone, what about the other 30+ ab’s that game? Was someone else on the phone (apparently not) was mick out there with binoculars all game (apparently not).

    All this is, is an allegation from a team that is looking for some reason why we have beaten up on them. Period. This wasn’t going on all game, it wasn’t going on in the 9th when we opened it up – and it wasn’t complained about last year in the playoffs when we sent them home.

    You, and they, sound like sour grapes. Making something out of nothing just to lessen the accomplishments of this team. You can have your assumptions, and accusations – until anything of substance is proved, they are doing nothing wrong.. period.

  7. Paco

    May 12, 2010 10:57 AM

    Ryan your post is embarrassing yourself. Obviously any kind of systematic binocular based system would not be to relay individual signs to current batters. Rather it would be to learn the other teams entire sign system (probably including the system they use to hide signs when runners are on second) and then relay that information to the entire team so that the entire team knows the signs and can pick them up on the field and pass them along.
    Just take a few moments and think before you post, for the good of the rest of us who read this blog.

  8. Pimp

    May 12, 2010 11:06 AM

    Paco…punch yourself in the balls you border hopper. Ryan’s post made absolute sense. Signs change every inning and sometimes more often then that.

  9. Ryan

    May 12, 2010 11:12 AM

    yeah.. Paco, this isn’t little league.

    Some teams change their signs every out of every inning. They have one set for 0 outs, one set for 1 out, one set for 2 outs. And they change them up at random times.

    You are then assuming that, there’s a runner on second to see the signs and relay them – only, there is 0 mention of anyone seeing a phillies player relaying signs – a la the Mauer incident last year.

    You guys keep reaching. There’s gotta be a way that you can take something away from the Phils success.

  10. MU789

    May 12, 2010 11:28 AM

    Signs are so easy to change. A batter looking for a fastball can look stupid when the curve breaks over the plate. Not to mention a fastball headed for your ribs when you’re looking for the curve.

    Guess hitters are one thing. Believing the bullpen knows what pitch is coming and getting the info to the batter in time is another.

  11. Ryan

    May 12, 2010 11:31 AM

    @ MU exactly – there is a good article about it on espn – where Goose Gossage basically said, you wanna tip pitches, then we’ll change the signs and make 2=fastball, and when you think you are getting a breaking ball, I’m gonna figure one up and in and plug you when you are waiting for it to break.

  12. Shooter-B

    May 12, 2010 12:50 PM

    I think the only reasonable solution here is to allow catchers and pitchers to use bluetooth technology during games, and extensive ventriloquist training for the off-season.

    Every time a pitcher gets rocked, the hometown biased broadcasters think Ocean’s Eleven is working the other side. They are a disgrace to the tinfoil hat.

  13. Philadelphia Cheaters

    May 12, 2010 05:07 PM

    “Border Hopper” – LOL. Personal attacks generally are the best way to get your point across. This isn’t James fucking Bond you morons – take the Phillies out of the equation and think about it hypothetically. Someone sits out there with binoculars. They aren’t 5 miles away, you can see them from the batters box. Once they see the sign maybe they cross their arms for one pitch, have them at the side for another, and don’t do anything if they don’t know. It isn’t some elaborate spy game involving 9 people and a code language. This isn’t saying the Phillies were stealing signs but the OMG IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE defense works only when you concoct some idiotic elaborate scheme.

  14. SDO

    May 12, 2010 06:04 PM

    Hey Cheater Genius. Have you ever even watched a game being played at Coors field? If so you would know that the distance from the bullpen to the batter’s box might as well be 5 miles away. It would have had to been some pretty exaggerated body language for someone to interpret those alleged signs. The league reviewed the video and stated that there was NO conclusive evidence. So there goes your brilliant theory. Sit down, amateur.

  15. SxM

    May 12, 2010 06:48 PM

    I think this is stupid….they show the catcher throwing gang signs on tv when they show the batter getting ready to swing….I’m sure every team has some one reading the sign and reading what pitch goes to that sign than calls the bullpen and dug out for use in later innings!!!!so him having binocs is not that big of a deal to me!!! PEOPLE NEED TO GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT IS DO….GO PHILLIES!!!!!

  16. kpage

    May 12, 2010 07:37 PM

    Typical of FOX sports to run this stupid story. Watching the World Series last year on FOX was grueling enough. If I couldn’t see the picture I wouldn’t have even known who the Yankees were playing they are so biased. That’s what happens when the same guy owns the NY post . As far as stealing signs goes… that is why they’re given in code.

  17. Ryan

    May 13, 2010 06:54 AM

    Yep… cheaters… you got it right… we are the morons. Pay no attention to the fact that the story points out Victorino on the phone – which you know, would be irrelevant if the bullpen coach were giving signs.

    Also pay no attention to the fact that the MLB has the tape of Mick with the binoculars and found that, in no way was he giving signs.

    But you’re right… they are calling them into the dugout, no they are calling them in from the fill room, no they are signaling from 400+ feet away using hand gestures.

    all very logical… or not.

  18. Tj

    May 13, 2010 11:23 AM

    Like the bullpen coach, Mick Billmeyer said “They are just mad cause The Phillies beat all them other losing team.”

  19. bishop155

    May 13, 2010 10:36 PM

    Arlen Specter should launch an investigation against the Phillies. I be they stole signs against Tampa Bay as well. They should take away their World Series Championships. Cheating should not be tolerated. “REMEMBER THAT SPECTER????”

  20. Paco

    May 14, 2010 11:03 AM

    Its kind of hard to tell what the Phillies defenders are arguing here, but they seem to be suggesting that:

    Phillies Maxim #1: There is NO ADVANTAGE to be gained by having a member of a team watching every sign from the opposing team and learning their system(s).

    Do you people seriously believe this? Notwithstanding the possiblity that the opposing team can switch signs, the Phillies can keep right on stealing them. Its hard to believe that adults could think that maxim is true, but reading this comments it seems that that is the case.

  21. Sherryw

    May 14, 2010 02:37 PM

    If this is cheating everyone needs to be fined. Ever been in a clubhouse or a locker room? Every team has huge TV’s showing the game in progress, and TV cameras clearly zoom right in and show signs. Heck, I’d be surprised they don’t have TVs in some of the pens. How is a coach out in the pen with binoculars worse then a 60″ plasma I want to know?

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