“Cheating in baseball? There’s apparently an app for that.”
–Lead paragraph in Wednesday’s Boston Globe
Of course, the jokes have come hailing down. Have you heard about the new Apple device the Red Sox are endorsing? It’s called the iCheat … We watch with the iWatch: the official device of the Boston Red Sox … Welcome to Boston, where champions cheat.
Tell you what, let’s back up for a second, in the event you missed it. Yesterday’s New York Times reported that the Red Sox used the Apple Watch as part of a scheme to steal signs during a series between Boston and the New York Yankees in August. The story added that the scheme had been in place for at least several weeks. Also, according to the story, the Red Sox admitted to the deed and will likely be reprimanded by Major League Baseball, though the severity of the penalty is unclear.
In short, here’s what the Red Sox did: while monitoring video feeds (as all teams do) so that they might be able to potentially challenge an umpire’s decision during the game, Red Sox employees stole the Yankees’ pitching signs. Team employees then messaged a Sox trainer, who received notification on his Apple Watch while stationed in the dugout. The information was then relayed to players.
The best part? It wouldn’t have been a violation if the Red Sox didn’t use the watch.
Commissioner Rob Manfred admitted to reporters prior to last night’s game between the Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park: “We actually do not have a rule against sign-stealing. It has been a part of the game for a very, very long time. To the extent that there was a violation of the rule here, it was a violation by one or the other [team] that involved the use of electronic equipment. It’s the electronic equipment that creates the violation.”
Hilarious, right? If you can steal signs, no problem. Just don’t use any electronic devices.
So are the Red Sox guilty? You bet they are. Of stupidity. Had the video coordinators merely told a clubhouse employee to run down to the dugout and deliver the message, the Red Sox would face no discipline. But Boston got lazy and downright blatant. Having trainers check their watches in the dugout is the white-collar equivalent of Yankees starter Michael Pineda going to the mound with a blotch of pine tar on his neck. What were the Yankees supposed to do? Ignore it?
But wait, there’s more. Agitated by the Yankees claim — “The Yankees decided they wanted to give it to the [Times] today for whatever reason,” Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, told reporters – the Red Sox filed a counter-complaint alleging the Yankees use YES Network cameras at Yankee Stadium for the same purpose. The Yankees, in turn, suggested pitcher Doug Fister illegally used an earpiece on the mound in New York. (It was actually a mouthpiece Fister had stored over his ear.) On and on they volley.
(Quick aside: someone has to have bugged the phone in the visitor’s dugout, right?)
Now, as to whether this all constitutes cheating, that is open to debate. Everyone in baseball acknowledges that stealing signs is as old as the game itself. In this age, technology was bound to complicate the process. Don’t get me wrong: the Red Sox still look stupid and smarmy. But the complaint about Fister’s mouthpiece by the Yankees takes the paranoia to a different level.
The ultimate conclusion, of course, is that the Red Sox and Yankees don’t like each other again, which is good news for baseball. Just last week, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia complained publicly that the Red Sox had the audacity to bunt for a hit against him, forcing him to field his position. Retorted Red Sox infielder Eduardo Nunez, who had laid down the bunt: “That’s not my problem.”
Amen to that, Eduardo.
Now we have Yankees General Manager, Brian Cashman, filing complaints with the league — and the Red Sox filing counter-complaints. We have Apple Watches, television cameras and alleged earpieces. We have a full-blown paranoia between longtime rivals vying for the 2017 American League East championship, and we have something that doesn’t often exist in sports anymore: bad blood.
What we don’t have, unfortunately, is any more games between the Red Sox and Yankees on the schedule.
Unless, of course, they meet in October.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.