On Monday, after another disastrous outing by Johnny Cueto, the enigmatic pitcher accused the Blue Jays of stealing signs. It was evident during the ballgame that Cueto and Salvador Perez were concerned about signs, meeting frequently on the mound to communicate, likely about how to mix up the signs so the Blue Jays could not steal them. Whether or not the Blue Jays actually stole signs is unproven. But this is not the first time the accusation has been leveled.
Here is Edinson Volquez, speaking on behalf of Johnny Cueto.
He said...they got a guy in centerfield. You see how hard it is, he look to the centerfield and he see somebody do this or do that, it's really hard to do that.....But when the guy gets on second base, he said something about that, too, they were giving signs to the hitter. But I don't know.
Volquez says its a known problem throughout the league.
That's what I hear. Most of the team come here - we've got a lot of friends on different teams, they always say that, they give the signs or whatever it is. But I don't go crazy with it.
Ned Yost downplayed the accusations, saying:
"We use multiple signs, set up late. It's not really an issue for us. We always make sure we are changing signs because clubs will look to relay location. But we haven't seen any sign of it here.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons seemed to admit it was a possibility, but a part of the game.
"I think that's been a part of baseball forever," Gibbons said. "I'm sure we do it. Everybody tries it. All you're doing is looking for an advantage."
Sign-stealing can be done several ways. A runner at second base can take a peek at the catcher signs as the pitcher looks in, then relay it to the batter. Someone in the outfield stands or bullpen could use binoculars to peek in at the signs and relay the signs through some sort of signal like a light or a hand gesture. Or the batter could simply look back and peek at the sign while the catcher is behind him. In any case, the main point is for the hitter to know what pitch is coming before it is thrown, giving him an advantage.
The Blue Jays enjoy a considerable split at Rogers Centre compared to their numbers at home. This year they hit .278/.351/.485 at home, and .260/.329/.431 on the road. But that split isn't too unusual for any team, and the Blue Jays were still the best offensive team on the road this year as well. A few key players have enjoyed unusually large splits however, such as Josh Donaldson (1.046 OPS at home, .840 on the road) and Jose Bautista (.989 OPS at home, .842 on the road).
The accusations against sign-stealing go back as far as 2009, as reported on by Amy Nelson and Peter Keating at ESPN.
"It's not too [f------] easy to hit home runs when you don't know what's coming!"
The enraged player and his teammates could hardly believe what they had seen in the previous inning. As they sat on the perch above the right-field bullpen at Rogers, they caught sight of a man dressed in white about 25 yards to their right, out among the blue center-field seats. And while the players watched, the man in white seemingly signaled the pitches the visiting pitcher was throwing against the Jays, according to four sources in the bullpen that day.
The players weren't exactly sure how the man in white knew what was coming -- maybe, they thought, he was receiving messages via his Bluetooth from an ally elsewhere in the stadium who had binoculars or access to the stadium feed. But they quickly picked up the wavelength of his transmissions: He was raising his arms over his head for curveballs, sliders and changeups. In other words, anything besides fastballs.
Former Royals catcher Gregg Zaun even admitted to stealing signs when he played for the Blue Jays.
"The only thing I can tell you about stealing signs is, when I played for the Blue Jays (2004-2008), yes we stole signs, and we were happy to do it."
Sign-stealing has long been part of the game, even to the game's origins. Technically, sign-stealing isn't even against Major League rules. There is nothing in the rule book on the subject, although MLB has outlawed communication devices in the dugout other than the bullpen phone as a guard against stealing signs. However the practice remains part of the "unwritten rules of the game", frowned upon by players and coaches alike.
The 1951 New York Giants reportedly stole signs, relaying them through an electronic buzzing device. That team went on to win the pennant on Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World." As recently as 2010, the Phillies were caught stealing signs against the Rockies using a coach in the bullpen with binoculars. Major League Baseball let them off with a warning. Even the Royals were accused earlier this year of stealing signs.
Commissioner Rob Manfred swatted away Cueto's accusations against the Blue Jays, responding:
"Stealing signs is something that is often claimed, rarely proven in baseball,"
Its unclear how much, if any, advantage sign-stealing confers on the hitter. Some hitters don't like to know what pitch is coming. And even if they do know, you still have to hit it. Many players and commentators argue that the response to sign-stealing is to get better signs.
In any case, any alleged sign-stealing did not help the Blue Jays yesterday. No matter what happens, the Royals will not have to visit Rogers Centre again until next summer. Perhaps they will have a new set of signs by then.