clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hok Talk: What if we just made sign-stealing legal?

New, 23 comments

There’s not a great way to stop it.

Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles
Whit Merrifield peers in to see if he can steal a sign “legally”

You all probably thought we were done with this topic by now. But then COVID-19 happened and baseball didn’t and I was allowed more time to think about this topic than perhaps I should have been. And I’ve decided the only reasonable course of action, based on general opinion and also the way MLB has handled the entire thing, is to make sign-stealing via technology to be made entirely legal.

There are two ways to stop someone from doing a thing; you can make it physically impossible with some sort of barrier or you can impose penalties on it that are so harsh that people are dissuaded from doing it. Rob Manfred and other MLB officials made it extremely clear this past off-season that they were not particularly interested in making penalties harsh enough to dissuade players from attempting to cheat in this manner. Absolutely no active players were punished in any way and the Astros even kept their championship intact. Some former players/current executives were punished but all players have to do to avoid even that is give those people plausible deniability. Implementing some kind of physical barrier seems largely impossible. The most effective measure that MLB could take seems to be sending a person into every MLB dugout and/or clubhouse to ensure that players aren’t viewing TVs inappropriately. But if players are willing to go as far as they did to cheat, it doesn’t seem like a step that much further to bribe an official such as that to look the other way.

The consensus, from practically the moment Mike Fiers admitted to participating in the scheme with his co-workers, seems to have been that it’s perfectly acceptable to try to steal signs from second base but if you use technology you have Gone Too Far (TM). But we allow so much other use of technology in baseball, these days, why should this be different? Umpires use technology to get calls right, pitchers use technology to understand and improve their pitches, hitters use it for their swings.

So if MLB is unwilling/unable to stop players from cheating and fans are willing to accept new technologies in the sport then the thing that makes the most sense to just make it legal. That way no one gets an advantage over anyone else. And to fully ensure that, MLB should provide monitors to both teams for monitoring the signs. They could do some fun team-based stuff with it, too. The Astros banged on trash cans but other teams could do other things. The Pirates could fire a toy cannon and the Phillies could ring a bell while the Angels could flap their arms or something.

I know a lot of people will resist this proposal. Baseball fans love tradition and still have arguments over whether the Designated Hitter is a good idea. But ultimately this seems like the best move for the future of the sport given the circumstances it finds itself in. Every other path seems likely to invite more discord and imbalance, which is the last thing baseball needs.