Forget vacating victories, which is N.C.A.A. stuff. Every baseball game has a winner and a loser, in real time, period. If an electronic delivery system helped the Red Sox win a few more games because their hitters knew what pitches were coming, we can’t pretend it didn’t happen. It did, and they got away with it.
Naturally, the Yankees are upset about this, and the Red Sox think it is garbage. The Yankees saw their ace relievers bruised for 13 hits and 10 runs across nine innings in an August series at Fenway, when the Red Sox took two of three games. Boston’s healthy, confident swings seemed suspicious to Yankees officials, who found video evidence of electronic shenanigans in the Red Sox dugout.
Sign stealing is widely accepted in baseball, as long as it is done through keen observation and conveyed manually. It is the responsibility of the pitcher and catcher to properly conceal their signs. Most players would fault themselves for allowing their signs to be decoded. Everyone wants an edge.
All teams use video analysts who are readily accessible to players before, after and during games. Those analysts study catchers’ signs and sequences and can have their findings physically relayed to the dugout. That information can then be communicated to runners on second base — who can see the catcher’s signals — or even verbally to the batter.
It is part of the quirky language of the game. Sometimes a seemingly innocent call from the bench might really indicate what pitch is coming. “C’mon now” might mean “fastball,” and “Here we go” might mean “breaking ball.”
The issue here is using an electronic device to more quickly relay this information. That is against the rules, even if, in Boston’s case, it may have just been a clever effort to cut out the middleman.
At Yankee Stadium, which opened in 2009, the video rooms are right behind the dugouts, literally steps away from the door for both the home team and the visitors. At Fenway Park, which opened in 1912, the video room is much farther away — down a tunnel, up one flight of stairs, around a corner and up another flight of stairs, next to the weight room above the home clubhouse.
In that setup, it is easy to see why the Red Sox would want an electronic system to transmit the intelligence they find on video as quickly as they can. It sounds reasonable enough, if only it were within the rules. It is not, and the Red Sox must have known this.
The Red Sox have admitted to the commissioner’s office that this setup had existed for weeks. The Yankees, of course, want Manfred to issue suspensions, significant fines and the loss of draft picks. Manfred did this in January to the St. Louis Cardinals.
That was in response to a hacking operation against the Houston Astros by Chris Correa, the former Cardinals scouting director. Manfred issued a lifetime ban to Correa (who is serving a prison term), fined the Cardinals $2 million and forfeited their top two draft picks this June to the Astros.
This case hardly rises to that level of deceit. It might end up making a difference in the standings in a close American League East race, though, so the Yankees have a right to be upset. So do the Red Sox, if they can prove their counterclaim that the Yankees have engaged in similar tactics.
This much is clear, anyway: The Yankees and the Red Sox are finished with each other for the regular season, but the rivalry is hot again. Without the old standbys who stoked it for so long — A-Rod and Manny, Jeter and Big Papi, Clemens and Pedro, on and on and on — that is its own kind of victory.
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