Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sign stealing and the boys of summer

Now it seems as if the Colorado Rockies are all upset because the Philadelphia Phillies were stealing signs in a recent game. The Phillies' bullpen coach was caught on camera looking toward home plate with a pair of binoculars. The clear implication is he was trying to determine what pitch the catcher was calling for so he could alert someone in the dugout.

It's an unwritten rule (and there are probably more unwritten rules in baseball than those of the written variety) that a batter better not turn around to see where the catcher is lining up -- unless he wants a fastball way up and in. However, it has been a longstanding tradition in baseball for a runner at second to try to steal the catcher's signs -- but he best be careful in how he tips the batter lest someone catch a hummer by the earhole.

In 1951, Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hit one of the most famous homers in baseball history -- The Shot Heart 'Round the World and the radio announcer, Russ Hodges, placed himself in baseball lure with his dramatic cry "The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!"

But there was more to the story. As it turns out, the Giants, who overcame a 13 game deficit with but ten weeks to go in the season, had a very sophisticated system in place to steal signs during the second half of the season.
Beginning on July 20, their manager, Leo Durocher, planted Hank Schenz, a spare infielder with a Wollensak telescope, in the center-field clubhouse. From a cutout in the mesh grid covering one of the 14 windows along the distant wall, Schenz — a former Chicago Cub who in 1946 had peered in at opposing catchers’ signs from the scoreboard at Wrigley Field — easily deciphered the signals. Abraham Chadwick, an electrician and, painfully, a Dodger fan employed by the Giants, wired a connection from the clubhouse window to the bullpen, where the reserve catcher Sal Yvars would toss a ball into the air — or not — to clue in the Giants batter as to whether a fastball or curve was coming.
As I've said before, I don't understand the angst of baseball fans when it comes to stealing signs or injecting steroids -- baseball has always been about cheating and not getting caught.

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