In the interest of full disclosure, I was going to use “witch hunt” in the title before thinking better of it due to the latter-day bastardization of the phrase. That, and because teams using illicit electronic means by which to gain an advantage is a very real thing that isn’t confined to just two teams. Then there’s the notion that we’re all capable of discerning modern technology in baseball from magic. Hence, no witches.
There are, however, plenty of whiches when it comes to those practitioners of the “electronic dark arts,” as Michael Baumann of The Ringer put it. As such, penalizing the Astros and Red Sox for their transgressions merely treats the symptoms of a chronic disease that has metastasized throughout the league. Logan Morrison recently accused the Dodgers and Yankees of stealing signs via cameras, and many other teams have been implicated as well.
Logan Morrison on IG pic.twitter.com/KnvWvP7mUl
— Dave (@gggiants) January 13, 2020
In an October article for Bleacher Report, Scott Miller named the Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Diamondbacks as teams anonymous sources told him were “especially adept with technological surveillance.” He also mentions the Indians, Blue Jays, and Rangers, though he adds the qualifier that the latter two were “once suspected.”
Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat and MLB.com tweeted in November that the Astros and Rangers were among three teams multiple players had told him were the “most egregious with electronic sign stealing.” The third, in case you were wondering, was the Brewers. In addition to repeated allegations that they manipulate the lighting at Miller Park to create an advantage, they may have utilized some sort of camera/signal system.
Here's the video – it happens very quickly, and just before Yu steps off. Yelich is locked on Darvish, eyes flick toward left center, then back to Darvish. Yu steps off. pic.twitter.com/hqOSvGMGEh
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) November 15, 2019
But before you go settling into your saddled on that high horse, you might want to see the other two teams Miller — Scott, not Park — named as dabbling in technological thievery. One of his sources mentioned that the Cubs and Nationals have taken part as well, “but not as much as others.” Hey, at least they’ve still got the moral middle ground or something.
The Cubs also have plausible deniability in the form of their offensive performance over the last two seasons. Unless Theo Epstein really meant that their sign-stealing process “broke somewhere along the lines” when he was referring to their flailing offensive performance, the Cubs definitely weren’t leveraging any extra competitive advantages. Still, at least one person believes they may have tried something and are therefore part of a not-insignificant cadre of cheaters.
Some of those teams were listed more than once and I ran out of fingers when I was counting, so you’ll have to forgive me if my unofficial tally of 11 teams is off a little bit. Either way, we’re talking about one-third of MLB being publicly implicated in electronic sign-stealing to some extent. Does that mean the investigation is going to cast a wider net? More specifically, are the Cubs at risk of being caught up in it?
Probably not. While Baumann’s conclusion is a bit florid for my taste, he does make a good point about baseball’s bigger issues and what they say about the potential, or lack thereof, for this latest scandal to spread.
Luhnow might have been the noisiest and most conspicuous adherent to that type of toxic culture among recent MLB GMs. But the ranks of power in baseball are so riddled with his ilk that it’s impossible to know for sure, and at any rate he’s far from the only offender. Electronic sign stealing is the cause célèbre of the day, but it’s penny-ante shit compared to other behaviors that stem from the same societal disease that views rules, norms, and human beings as obstacles to be navigated around or run over on the way to the goal.
It is from this toxic stem that electronic sign stealing sprouted, as well as other even more insidious fruits: suspicious leaguewide spending freezes, service-time manipulation, improprieties surrounding the recruitment of amateur free agents, PEDs, starvation wages for minor leaguers, and a litany of other sins that are far more odious to fans and deleterious to the soul than sniffing out an upcoming breaking ball.
In short, the issues are too varied and the people — almost exclusively men — responsible for them so morally bankrupt that there’s really no way to fix the whole thing. Setting aside the rest of the laundry list rattled off above, MLB would much prefer to sweep this sign-stealing stuff under the rug and pretend as though it has sufficiently burned the worst offenders at the stake.
They’ve set a precedent and created a deterrent for any future shenanigans, even if it’s really just a shiny object for fans and a warning to other organizations to just not be so damn stupid if they’re going to cheat. The Astros were done in as much by their own hubris as anything, while the Red Sox are repeat offenders after the whole Apple Watch fiasco spurred the focus on electronic sign-stealing in the first place.
So whether the Cubs really engaged in anything or it was just a matter of someone from a rival team getting drunk on sour grapes and throwing them under the bus, it doesn’t appear as though anything more will come of this. Same for pretty much all the other teams, since the last thing MLB wants is for this this to drag out any further or get any bigger than it already has.