STEALING SIGNS ELECTRONICALLY

The Yankees recently accused the Red Sox of stealing signs and using an Apple phone to transmit the information to their players. It is amazing to me that this accusation got as much play as it did because stealing signs has been going on for as long as baseball players and coaches have been using signs as a method of transmitting information.

The mere fact that signs are used to transmit information indicates that there would be an advantage in knowing what the signs meant and, therefore, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that someone will try to steal them.

On this date, in 1900, the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Philadelphia Phillies in Philadelphia’s Baker Bowl. The story goes that the Reds had long felt that the Phillies were stealing their signs when they would play them there. During the ball game, that day, Petie Chiles, who was also known as

‘ What’s the use Chiles ‘, a player who, when he wasn’t playing, enjoyed coaching third, was doing so that day. According to the story, as told by Joe Dittmar in the Baseball Research Journal, Chiles ‘ had an unusual twitch in his legs at times and often stood in one position, right in the middle of a perpetual wet spot, in the corner of the coaches’ box.’

Tommy Corcoran, the Reds’ shortstop, had been apparently been watching Chiles closely and, during the third inning of the game, went over to the coaches box and began digging with his spikes in the dirt. He supposedly uncovered a wooden box with wires and a buzzer type device. One version of the story recalls, that Corcoran then traced the wires to the center field fence where a man named Murphy would steal the sign with a ‘spyglass’ and relay it to Chiles via a buzzer in the box. Other versions just speculate that the signs were being relayed electrically from a spotter in center field but Dittmar notes that, whatever you believe, Murphy was thereafter known as ‘ Thomas Edison Murphy ‘.

Obviously, signs have been stolen for years and there is not clear definition of what is acceptable thievery and what isn’t. Pitchers and catchers routinely have multiple sets of signals with which to call for pitches because of the possibility of them being stolen by runners on second. Many Major League baseball players will tell you that they don’t want someone signaling the incoming pitch to them because of the danger to them an error could create. At any rate, I don’t see Yankee General Manager Cashman’s complaint as changing the game.

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