Is Sign Stealing a Crime?

Fights have broken out. Cheaters have been crowned. Some say it’s just good baseball and it’s on the pitcher and catcher to stop. Others, believe that it’s against the rules and makes our great game unbalanced. Everyone has an opinion, and sign stealing is back in the spotlight.

Following Game 2 of the 2018 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, Boston pitching coach, Dana LeVangie, accused Dodgers’ superstar shortstop Manny Machado of the baseball crime that is sign stealing. LeVangie says that Machado, was relaying signs from second base to Enrique Hernandez and Yasiel Puig during the fourth inning of game 2. The latter of which was able to drive in Machado with an RBI-single.

LeVangie, upset with the way the run scored, still understood sign stealings role in the game. LeVangie told Bleacher Report after the game,“Oh, it’s clean, it’s baseball.” LeVangie’s stance is one that is shared by many throughout the game, including Commissioner Rob Manfred, who said that sign stealing has “been a part of our game since Lassie was a puppy.”

Stealing signs, like the two men said, is not new. Last year, there were talks of Manfred doing something to completely eliminate the strategy. Putting in legislation to stop players from doing this will take one of the best parts of the game out. Baseball has always been a game of strategy. The new era, while analytically makes the game better, has taken some strategy out of the game. Many things, like sacrifice bunts, have left the game for the most part. Strategy is now how early and who to go to in your bullpen. Sign stealing is one of the few things remaining in baseball from the days of Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. The league can’t just eliminate it completely. If a runner uses his eyes and uses his smarts to steal the signs from the pitcher and relay it to the hitter, then the pitcher and catcher need to do a better job of disguising it.

This topic has been being debated for years, but with the improvement in technology, some clubs feel the lengths teams are going insinuates cheating. Last season, The Red Sox were fined by Major League Baseball for stealing signs against the New York Yankees, using Apple Watches to do it. In this year’s American League Championship Series, the Red Sox accused the Houston Astros of sending an employee with a video camera to their dugout to steal signs. While the Astros admitted to the employee going on their demand, they denied the any wrongdoing, insisting that they sent the man to “make sure other teams weren’t cheating.” The technological developments that have occurred over the past few years, have introduced a new issue in the sign stealing debate.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports told me: “Sign-stealing certainly has its place in baseball, and it long has been part of the game.” Like many in the industry however, Passan agrees that, “Where [sign stealing] goes wrong, I think, is in the employment of technology to further it. It’s one thing to use know-how to see what other teams are trying to say. If you’re getting it with a camera or using some sort of computer to decipher it, that — to me and to a number of people inside the game — goes too far.”

If sign stealing by runners is not cheating, why is it when teams use technology that it becomes against the rules? The teams that use Apple Watches or send guys to take videos are not using any strategy that belongs in the game of baseball. This idea is not, “just a part of the game,” because teams haven’t had the opportunity to use these resources for the past hundred years. Using this technology gives an unfair advantage to the hitting teams that it is impossible for pitchers to avoid. If teams begin to use technology and use anything they can do to get ahead, the game will lose the tradition that makes it great.

With the 2018 Major League season ending, the controversy of sign stealing could be a largely discussed topic over the next few months. Will there be rule changes to enforce that sign-stealing is not allowed? Will MLB acknowledge that sign stealing is a part of the game, but that technology goes too far? The controversy just adds another issue to an already exciting winter.

Adam Koplik

Rudy said my bio was too long. Hamilton College '25 Yankees writer, fluent in nerd. Follow me @adamkoplik on Twitter.

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