January 21, 2020

"Calling signs with fingers when there are hundreds of cameras trained on you seems archaic. Yet it is traditional..."

"... and the collision of technology and tradition needs a bridge if we want to preserve aspects of the past that are the signature of the game’s heartbeat. The real consequence of the Astros scandal may be to stoke the feeling of helplessness we all feel with technology at times, always a step behind.... Maybe the values behind the rules, the 'love of the game,' are naïve. That it is idealistic to dream of a World Series ring won through pure team and individual effort; maybe we should have realized the temptation of cutting corners for spoils that can more easily be acquired with money, drugs and better technology. A rocket arm, a quick bat, a big heart, a blessing from divine sources or humility are diminished in such a world. What you came with is not enough naturally. If we do not respond by fighting for what we claim to value in fair play, such a scandal makes us beholden to the notion that the prerequisites of success are simply deeper pockets, a better pharmacist and a[n] unethical hacker. And in such a world, humanity is marginalized and no game remains. Just video. So maybe the top isn’t that shiny simply because it is the top. Maybe the top is just resting high on an ice cream cake, doomed to melt from the heat of 'do whatever it takes' ethics."

From "Baseball’s Existential Crisis/The Astros cheating scandal calls into question the fundamental values of the game" by Doug Glanville (in The NYT). Glanville was a major league baseball player from 1996 to 2004.

We talked about the sign-stealing problem last November, where I wrote (in the comments):
Signs are made out in the open. Why can’t you read them?

How is it “stealing”?

It’s looking and seeing.
I put "stealing" in quotes because stealing usually sounds bad, but in baseball stealing bases is a celebrated skill. The easiest solution to this "existential crisis" is just to accept sign stealing as part of the game, no more unethical than stealing a base. Since that route is possible, isn't the real dispute about the balance of advantages between pitcher and batter? Is the hand-wringing about ethics pro-pitcher propaganda?

Also in the comments at that November post, Char Char Binks wrote:
I know little, and care less, about this controversy, but it illustrates one of the things I hate about baseball. The game is rife with unfairness, chicanery, and outright cheating. The general ethos of the game is “it’s not against the rules if you don’t get caught”, with flexible strike zones, brush backs with a deadly weapon, corked and tarred bats, pitchers secretly altering the ball to suit their preference, and players openly “razzing” opponents with behavior that would be considered grossly unsportsmanlike in almost any other game, but that coaches teach players to do from a young age.

How baseball came to be seen as the exemplar of good, clean American fair play I’ll never know.
Psota responded:
Ha! Baseball is PERFECT as a symbol of American society's distinctive combination of "High ideals" + "low morals" approach to life. This is not a comment on Dems v GOP, Trump v Hillary,etc. Charles Dickens was writing about our peculiar national character in Martin Chuzzlewit.
What did Dickens say about Americans in "Martin Chuzzlewit"? I'm not sure, but Lisa Simpson says:
"I think we should invest in a set of The Great Books Of Western Civilization. Look at this ad from The New Republic for Kids: Each month, a new classic will be delivered to our door. Paradise Regained, Martin Chuzzlewit or Herman Melville's twin classics Omoo and Typee."

65 comments:

Wilbur said...

If you don't think trash talk and insults designed to upset an opponent goes on (or went on) in other sports, you're off base (ha).

I remember in the late 60s a Jewish player in the NHL was subjected to horrible razzing from opponents. When it came out in Sports Illustrated, the league put a stop to it.

In recent decades (especially in the NBA) the stuff went from racial, religious and ethnic crap to personal stuff: girlfriends, mistresses, off-field troubles - they became prevalent.

Anything to get an edge. Livelihoods were at stake.

gilbar said...

signs ARE out in the open, and it IS fine to read them; for a PLAYER, with their EYES

To have some one off the field; using technology, like a telephoto camera... Would be like
having some one off the field; using technology

don't you see that is different, from someone using their eyes?
it'd be like listening to an old lady, BRAGGING about how much she bicycles;
then finding out her bike is electric

Aunty Trump said...

“Your wife’s a dyke!” - Slapshot

Aunty Trump said...

They will come around to the obvious answer after a period of mourning, which is the same answer the NFL already uses, player electronics. That’s what the green dot means on the back of the QB’s helmet, and also the middle linebacker, if I am not mistaken. He’s wired to hear from the coach.

Aunty Trump said...

I remember hearing a Dolphins fan in South Florida call into talk radio once when they were talking about the Patriots scandals, and he said “I wish that the Dolphins wanted to win as bad as the Patriots do.”

ndspinelli said...

The organic stealing of signs has been part of baseball for generations. The Commissioner has deemed this technological theft not allowed and is nipping it in the bud. I agree w/ his ruling.

Rory said...

"They will come around to the obvious answer after a period of mourning, which is the same answer the NFL already uses, player electronics."

Yes. The problem is your basic bureaucratic snafu: they banned electronics in the dugout, then they imposed a system where teams could challenge umpire decisions, and to facilitate that allowed monitors to be placed adjacent to the dugout, so that teams were on the honor system about using the monitors to steal signs. So now they'll allow electronics to defeat sign stealing in the dugout and on the field.


Leland said...

My problem is how the technology got there. What's trumpeted is the installation of the monitor, but it was all part of the replay video room available to both teams by MLB to review plays. In other words, Cora exploited the technology that MLB made available. If you want purity of the sport, get rid of instant replay.

Ralph L said...

It's one thing for the pitcher to stare at the catcher's crotch, but how must he feel with his opponents doing it, and then talking about it to their friends?

stevew said...

Having developed the skill to throw the baseball over the plate in different arcs and locations, the purpose of which is to fool and confuse the batter, I am deeply offended that you would devise a system and engage helpers to determine what pitch I will throw next. Thus I will assert the sportsman's nuclear accusation: you are behaving in a completely unsportsmanlike manner with this "sign stealing" of yours.

rehajm said...

It's been an accepted part of the game for the runner on second to signal the pitch to the batter. TV Cameras or non player scouts in the stands have been the big no no...

Personally I enjoy the occasional rogue. If you aint cheatin you aint tryin. A nail file or a little Vaseline on cap throw the spitter...er...'hard slider'. The game is boring enough as it is without bringing straight shooter golfer ethics into it...

rehajm said...

I reject the analogies to American society- Cora is Puerto Rican...

meep said...

Re: Martin Chuzzlewit (my 2nd favorite Dickens novel)

The "American episodes" of Chuzzlewit were a Hail Mary pass for Dickens because his sales on Chuzzlewit needed a boost. Beating up on the U.S. was a popular ploy in Britain at the time, esp. with Trollope's mom's bestselling book about her couple of years trying to run a shop in the U.S.

Dickens had also just been to the U.S. for a speaking tour himself, and it was a disaster. While Dickens was an extremely popular author in the U.S., he didn't make much money off that, as there was no international copyright at the time and his works were pirated all over the place. In fact, the newspapers often just plain printed out his serials without paying him any royalties at all. So Dickens ranted about the situation in his speeches, the U.S. media panned him, and then he wrote a nonfiction book and then the American episodes in Chuzzlewit.

He was scathing about slavery (natch), but also the real estate scams as the frontier was opening up (this was pre-Civil War).

I talk about Dickens & America here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6y-eIuHpma8

He did come back for another tour AFTER the Civil War (that's an important item). He wrote a preface to a new edition of Chuzzlewit, apologizing for some of his earlier critiques and noting a lot of changes.

Oh, and his work was protected by international copyright by the post-war era.

Curious George said...

"rehajm said...
It's been an accepted part of the game for the runner on second to signal the pitch to the batter. TV Cameras or non player scouts in the stands have been the big no no..."

The common practice to prevent the runner from stealing signs is to use an "indicator", a type of sequencing code. The runner won't be there long enough to figure it out. The problem with the camera is that no one knew it was happening, and they were using simple "one for fast ball, two for curve, etc.

Jeff said...

There's a huge difference between a runner on second reading the catcher's signs and the same being done by someone or something that is not on the field. The game is supposed to be a contest between the players on the field, not their camera crews. Otherwise you give the home team an intolerable advantage, and you might just as well not play the game at all.
How is this not obvious?

rhhardin said...

Encrypt the signs. Get with the technology. Use a one-time pad. Then there's no need to conceal the signs at all in the first place. You can't steal them.

mccullough said...

This will be taken care of in the spring when pitchers start throwing at the Astros.

If MLB were serious about this, they would give a lifetime ban to the players involved. Not the managers.

MLB is not serious about this.

If other teams don’t like what the Astros did, then they can take care of it.

meep said...

Here is a good characterization of how Dickens wrote about America in the 1840s:

https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/901325-the-life-and-adventures-of-martin-chuzzlewit

“if I was a painter, and was to paint the American Eagle, how should I do it?...I should want to draw it like a Bat, for its short-sightedness; like a Bantam. for its bragging; like a Magpie, for its honesty; like a Peacock, for its vanity; like an Ostrich, for putting its head in the mud, and thinking nobody sees it -' ...'And like a Phoenix, for its power of springing from the ashes of its faults and vices, and soaring up anew into the sky!”

donald said...

Nobody’s gonna throw at the Astros for this, they’ve all been doing it. If they haven’t, then I’d be disappointed. This is professional baseball. Everybody cheats. Constantly.

Patrick said...

When I played little league, we used cameras to steal signs. Problem is we had to wait 3 days for the film to be developed!

Paco Wové said...

"...I should want to draw it like a Bat, for its short-sightedness..."

Hmmm, what modern political figure does this description most resemble...

Ray said...

"This will be taken care of in the spring when pitchers start throwing at the Astros."

They have really cracked down on this. Too much money at stake; The owner's investment in the player, and the player's career of multi-million dollar contracts.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

Baseball is American character on display. There are winners and losers. And there is a fight within the rules that includes beating the rules when you are smart enough to get away with it. IIR the first career of The Kid From Queens was playing amateur baseball in high school, and now he plays for Team USA. And if you want to see Christians openly try to destroy Christians, just play Church League Softball.

exhelodrvr1 said...

It's one of the unwritten rules of baseball. Very similar to the Democrats playbook.

Curious George said...

"mccullough said...
This will be taken care of in the spring when pitchers start throwing at the Astros."

Not gonna happen.

Aunty Trump said...

I guess that stealing signs from second base is a time honored tradition. I am sure that the pitchers and catchers game that too.

daskol said...

Stealing signs is not the only case, I can think of several examples where noticing things that are out in the open, fairly obvious things, is hazardous. Doug Glanville's book is a pretty good baseball read, btw. He was a credit to the game, and I can understand why he would write in defense of Mike Fiers. However, I agree with this sentiment re Fiers from LaTroy Hawkins:

“I wish Fiers would have done it when he was on the Astros and not when he left,’’ Hawkins told USA TODAY Sports. “That would have more integrity. You win a World Series with them, go away and now you talk about it? If you had integrity, why didn’t you talk about it while it happened?

Gahrie said...

The easiest solution to this "existential crisis" is just to accept sign stealing as part of the game, no more unethical than stealing a base.

Stealing signs isn't the problem. That goes back to the first time someone started using signs. The problem is using technology to provide an unfair advantage.

Curious George said...

"Aunty Trump said...
I guess that stealing signs from second base is a time honored tradition. I am sure that the pitchers and catchers game that too."

As I said above, the common practice to prevent the runner at second from stealing signs is to use an "indicator", a type of sequencing code. The runner won't be there long enough to figure it out. The problem with the camera is that no one knew it was happening, and they were using simple "one for fast ball, two for curve, etc.

Phidippus said...

Noted American philosopher and baseball great Yogi Berra was once asked why he was so good a stealing signs. "You can observe a lot by just watching", he replied.

Amadeus 48 said...

Dickens on America: I don't like it. Too vulgar.

New Republic for Kids: For their first trick, they send Melville's The Confidence Man.

narayanan said...

Body cams for all the players >>>> how soon!?

Curious George said...

More common than stealing signs (legally) is deducing the pitch to be thrown by observing different behavior by either the pitcher or catcher. Maybe the pitcher holds his glove a little higher when throwing a curve, or the catcher moves up in the box.

narayanan said...

...In fact, the newspapers often just plain printed out his serials without paying him any royalties at all. So Dickens ranted about the situation in his speeches...
____________+++++++++++++++++

against capitalism but ranting about copyright?

dbzdak said...

That Lisa Simpson line about Omoo and Typee has sure helped me out of jams in crossword puzzles over the years.

rcocean said...

Dickens was a typical English Fraud when it came to Slavery. He was always willing to bash the USA over it, but when the Civil war came, he refused to support the North. Instead he stated the war wasn't about Slavery - EVEN AFTER THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION. He spend the entire war supporting gun running to the South, and sneering at the North.

Like most Englishmen, he just wanted to Virtue signal and didn't give a damn about the actual "Negroes".

rcocean said...

Ommo Typee and martin Chuzzlewitz are actually pretty good books.

rcocean said...

Lots of Melville, outside of Moby Dick, is well written and deals with his experiences in Europe, the South Seas, and as US Navy Sailor. He's not just about Whales.

Otto said...

I think it is hilarious when atheists talk about morals.It's like the tower of babel- white noise. Everyone has their own 8 1/2' x 11" crib sheet.

Char Char Binks said...

What I really meant to say was FUCK BASEBALL!

It's boring, the "perfect game" is when nothing at all happens while you watch grass grow. Even a home run is boring; the ball leaves the field, so the batter runs the bases unopposed, almost as exciting as a balk.

Michael said...

.
In the movie Slap Shot, Paul Newman distracts the opposing goalie by taunting about his wife's lesbianism. Rumor has it this scene was based on the real life experience of Cesare Maniago, then in goal for the Minnesota North Stars.
.

Wilbur said...

Most of the Astro/Red Sox (let's not forget them) electronic sign stealing took place with the bases empty. One simple sign flashed to the pitcher and a middle infielder relays it to the outfield with an open or closed mouth (shielded by his glove).

mockturtle said...

You'd think the sign stealing could be used to your advantage by using fake signs.

mockturtle said...

It's boring, the "perfect game" is when nothing at all happens while you watch grass grow. Even a home run is boring; the ball leaves the field, so the batter runs the bases unopposed, almost as exciting as a balk.

A solo home run is boring. Seems wasteful unless it's a walk-off. A grand slam, OTOH...The most exciting plays are defensive ones: Well-executed double plays or even the rare triple play.

W.Cook said...

The issue is that he home team has an enormous advantage because they can control the placement and operation of cameras.

But I don't see why we can't have electronic sign delivery.

Levi Starks said...

The problem is simply this, there is a line between behaviors of what takes place on the field and in the stands.
The players have a role on the field which includes using every tactic available to them to win.
The role of spectators off the field is to vocally express either approval or disapproval’s for what they observe.
When in “real time” an agent of either team (while masquerading as a fan) attempts to provide information otherwise unavailable to players on the field that person is treated no differently that a spy behind enemy lines not in uniform.
Umpires have ejected loud mouthed fans who by virtue of their audible abilities were reliably telling the batter which pitch was coming next.

Shouting Thomas said...

21 days until spring training!

Nothing happening until then. Cubs trying to trade Kris Bryant for a bundle of prospects.

Well, a little something has happened. Illini ranked #21 and playing at Purdue tonight on ESPNU.

Illini beat Wisconsin in football and basketball this year, an event as rare as the Second Coming.

tim maguire said...

Subterfuge is a part of baseball, as I think it should be. There has always been an element of cat and mouse. But this particular controversy bothers me. Watching someone's signs and watching what happens next is just being smart. If someone can figure out your signs, good for them.

BUT, this video analysis is different. It's not clever, it's more like a brute force solution. If people can analyze film in real time, then players can no longer communicate by signs and the game will suffer.

I liken the distinction made in by privacy law--if you can be observed by someone in a place they have legal right to be using their normal senses, then you have no expectation of privacy. But if someone has to use technology to see into your space, then your rights have been violated. That is, if you parade naked in front of the window, that's on you. But if someone hides in the bushes with a zoom lens camera to catch you naked, that's a crime.

Rae said...

It could add another level of strategy. If you know your signs are going to be stolen, you can misdirect the other team.

Bob Smith said...

Actually I worry a lot more about the Umpires than the players.

Amadeus 48 said...

As I recall, Bob Gibson and the Cards used to deal with sign-stealing by having the catcher sign low and away, followed by Gibson throwing chin music.

Sort of like Trump and Soleimani.

Leland said...

I agree with this sentiment re Fiers from LaTroy Hawkins

I agree with that sentiment as well. I also wonder why the MLB waited until publishing the report to look into Red Sox. They claim it was because the Oakland A's (Mike Fiers current team) made a formal complaint the week prior, but didn't MLB know when they were writing the report that Cora came up with the system and was currently managing Boston?

My personal opinion is this has as much to do with the coastal media upset that they didn't get a New York vs LA matchup in 2017 and a general desire for all championship events to be in California or the upper East Coast. Why visit those deplorable flyover states? Especially when you could have partied in LA and NY? Boston and Oakland are close enough and available to make things seem legit.

stevew said...

The only aspect of this sign stealing thing that bugs me is the impact on pace of play. The games are too long as it is.

Gabriel said...

@Ann:Signs are made out in the open. Why can’t you read them?

How is it “stealing”?

It’s looking and seeing.


So is counting cards at blackjack... nonetheless it's not allowed.

Others have addressed how the Astro's system was not merely "looking and seeing", but even if it was, sports are defined by rules which need not make perfect sense.

Think of all possibilities that would open up if tennis did away with nets...

Jessica said...

Looking and seeing is fine. It's not against the rules for a runner at second base to look for the sign and signal it to the batter. It's also not against the rules for the batter to try to steal a glance between the catcher's legs. It's also not against the rules for the batter to look at the pitcher for tell-tale signs of certain pitches coming. All of this looking and seeing is permissible, for the batter or another offensive player, so long as it's done with the players' own eyes. What's against the rules -- and I think Althouse understands the distinction -- is for technology outside the offensive players' own perceptions, to augment that looking and seeing. What the Astros did was against the spirit and letter of the law. It's surreptitiously breaking a rule to gain an advantage over a team following the rule. It's cheating.

Jim at said...

If you want purity of the sport, get rid of instant replay.

Hear, hear.

Jim at said...

It's boring, the "perfect game" is when nothing at all happens while you watch grass grow. Even a home run is boring; the ball leaves the field, so the batter runs the bases unopposed, almost as exciting as a balk.

Good thing nobody's forcing you to watch it then, right?

stever said...

They went past the acceptable- everyone does this defense. They cheated as a team.

rcocean said...

Baseball is the one sport that is almost as good on the radio as it is on TV. Its because a large part of it, is just someone throwing a pitch and the batter fouling it off, taking a strike, or the umpire calling it a "ball". Even when the announcer says, So-and-so hits a hard grounder to Short, or a high fly to center field you can picture it in your mind and reality isn't going to be that different. And the same is true of a Home Run.

So there aren't that many "Oh, my Wow, did you see that" plays in BB game. OTOH, something like Soccer is boring on radio, you need to see it. Same with Basket Ball.

rcocean said...

As for sign stealing, why doesn't BB go high tech? Let the pitcher have an ear piece, and the catcher can send an electronic signal (beep-beep-beep) via a device in his glove.

rcocean said...

"I remember in the late 60s a Jewish player in the NHL was subjected to horrible razzing from opponents. "

Yeah, 1969 it was 50 years ago. Just like yesterday. And he was "Razzed" OMG. Thank God he survived. I remember one player was called a "Canuck" and couldn't go on. It was brutal.

Unknown said...

this advanced technology setup in a stadium only helps the home team steal pitching signs... the visiting team is at a huge disadvantage.

Narr said...

Hand jive--it's all racist, right? I'm surprised nobody's noticed before.

Narr
Take me out of the ball game

Jon Burack said...

I am sorry, but this entire entry is pure bullshit. Signs are NOT done out in the open. The catcher does all he can to keep the other side from seeing the signals because an essential feature of the game is the effort by pitchers to keep a batter off balance by his not knowing what kind of pitch is coming. An equal part of the game is the batter (and his team) trying to figure out what pitch is coming next. So when the opposing team has a man on second, pitcher and catcher switch to a different set of signs to minimize the chance of the signs being read. Sure, stealing signs is incorporated in that sense into the game. Stealing signs that the other side KNOWS you may try to steal. Stealing signs it does not even know you are able to steal, while it does not have the same capability, is not incorporated into the game. It is unfair. A game's rules do not have to be anything other than what those playing the game agree to. Baseball is, by the way, the most perfect game ever devised by man. It is a disgusting disgrace what the Astros did and I hope they suffer for it. Otherwise, as I believe Red Smith said, "ninety feet between bases is the closest thing to perfection I know."