Boston Red Sox Caught Using Technology to Steal Signs

The Boston Red Sox admitted to eavesdropping on the communications channel between catcher and pitcher.

Stealing signs is believed to be particularly effective when there is a runner on second base who can both watch what hand signals the catcher is using to communicate with the pitcher and can easily relay to the batter any clues about what type of pitch may be coming. Such tactics are allowed as long as teams do not use any methods beyond their eyes. Binoculars and electronic devices are both prohibited.

In recent years, as cameras have proliferated in major league ballparks, teams have begun using the abundance of video to help them discern opponents' signs, including the catcher's signals to the pitcher. Some clubs have had clubhouse attendants quickly relay information to the dugout from the personnel monitoring video feeds.

But such information has to be rushed to the dugout on foot so it can be relayed to players on the field -- a runner on second, the batter at the plate -- while the information is still relevant. The Red Sox admitted to league investigators that they were able to significantly shorten this communications chain by using electronics. In what mimicked the rhythm of a double play, the information would rapidly go from video personnel to a trainer to the players.

This is ridiculous. The rules about what sorts of sign stealing are allowed and what sorts are not are arbitrary and unenforceable. My guess is that the only reason there aren't more complaints is because everyone does it.

The Red Sox responded in kind on Tuesday, filing a complaint against the Yankees claiming that the team uses a camera from its YES television network exclusively to steal signs during games, an assertion the Yankees denied.

Boston's mistake here was using a very conspicuous Apple Watch as a communications device. They need to learn to be more subtle, like everyone else.

Posted on September 22, 2017 at 6:21 AM • 33 Comments

Comments

M. WelinderSeptember 22, 2017 7:02 AM

An sports rules are pretty much arbitrary. There is nothing wrong with that.

Or maybe you would cheer me and my bicycle on as I easily win the NY marathon?

JPSeptember 22, 2017 7:32 AM

It would be much simpler to solve the issue by authorizing the use of electronic devices. Then it would be up to each team to create strategies to foil their adversaries.

The one problem I'd have with this solution is if it's done in a way that is cost-prohibitive for smaller teams to have devices that bigger teams can easily spend money on or they have to resign themselves to use very inferior products thus being at a handicap against wealthier opponents.

Kent EnglandSeptember 22, 2017 8:12 AM

I appreciate your taking the time to make excerpts from your article references. It makes your references and comments so much easier to read.

225September 22, 2017 8:15 AM

This is such a nicer way to cheat compared to baseball players being juiced to the gills. At least here they can throw fake signals, encode their gestures differently. It should be a cat and mouse evolution which is part of the game.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 22, 2017 8:47 AM

@ JP,

It would be much simpler to solve the issue by authorizing the use of electronic devices. Then it would be up to each team to create strategies to foil their adversaries.

Ever watch Futurerama?

Some of the story lines involve the Robot baseball league and human sporting, events where performance enhancing drugs are compulsory. The reasons, to make the games more interesting for spectators and advertisers...

As a French king once scratched on a window, "The more things change, the more they stay the same".

Clive RobinsonSeptember 22, 2017 8:56 AM

@ Bruce,

Caught Using Technology to Steal Signs

It's very emotive language whicdkh is used in thue article.

Would it be as interesting if it was,

    Found Using Technology to Read Hand signals

Caught and Stealing imply some kind of crime was committed, rather than ignoring an arbitary and largely usless rule, mainly ment to placate spectators.

If anything it improves the skill of the game players as it removes "hidden knowledge".

I guess the easiest thing to do is just ban the hand signals or equivalent.

ChelloveckSeptember 22, 2017 9:24 AM

Sporting events should be conducted in the nude, just like the ancient Greeks intended. No clothes, no electronic devices, no problem.

CatherineSeptember 22, 2017 9:34 AM

Predefined signals could be sent using the vibration function on a wearable device. That would be virtually undetectable to outside observers. However, it would be much harder to train players to learn the signals by heart and interpret them in real time.

CatherineSeptember 22, 2017 9:57 AM

@Chelloveck: I wasn't going to be crude in my above post, but playing in the nude could be circumvented by remote-controlled vibrators. However, I feel that anyone dedicated enough to go to those lengths deserves to get away with it.

(At this point, signal jamming is probably the only feasible option for enforcing the rule - but it would likely affect the stands as well, and spectators would not like that. )

EireoldboySeptember 22, 2017 10:41 AM

Sorry for the iWatch affectionados....it has been revealed that it was a Fitbit that received the stolen signs.

JasonRSeptember 22, 2017 2:33 PM

The whole ban on tech is lame. Just let them all wear fitbits and send steal/no-steal, etc. from the dugouts to the fitbits.

NinjaSeptember 22, 2017 2:51 PM

The players could use electronic devices to talk among themselves as well. Just allow electronic devices as long as it's not direct eavesdropping the opponent with them and issue heavy penalties if the team is caught doing it.

albertSeptember 22, 2017 3:43 PM

That's the difference between a game and a business. Sports and music are the only professions I know that your work is 'play'; you play music and you play ball.

I really liked baseball as a kid, but now it's ridiculous. Any sport that relies on decency, respect and honesty is going to fail in all those areas. Abuse of technology makes cheating 'better', faster, and cheaper. Remember steroids? Might as well throw away the record books; they're meaningless now.

You guys are missing the point. Sign stealing is not illegal. Why not eliminate cameras that show the signs? And go back to the way it used to be.

ALL tech needs to be banned. There's no reason for it. It's absurd to suggest that technology can be used -and- regulated. BS. Banning everything is much easier to enforce.

. .. . .. --- ....

Fred PSeptember 22, 2017 4:37 PM

Erm... so the problem is that the communications between the pitcher and catcher isn't encrypted sufficiently, allowing onlookers to intercept their communications.

Why don't they just either encrypt/decrypt their signs, or at least have an encoding that changes over time, reducing the use of eavesdropping?

Alternatively, give the pitcher and catcher some means of secure communication as part of their standard outfit.

EstebanSeptember 22, 2017 7:18 PM

Sign stealing is against the rules, UNLESS you're a runner on second base and can see the catcher's hand signals. Then you can steal signs. All other sign stealing is not allowed.

Read the MLB rules before you post.

0xBBSeptember 22, 2017 10:29 PM

The rules about what sorts of sign stealing are allowed and what sorts are not are arbitrary and unenforceable. My guess is that the only reason there aren't more complaints is because everyone does it.

And it really doesn't help their game, either, because everyone knows everyone else does it. It's just that when people bring that weird high-tech stuff into a professional baseball game, it's far more likely that someone is betting money on the outcome of the game, and hedging their bets on the field, so the teams with the aforementioned technology are not even legitimately trying to "win" per se winning, but playing for a pre-arranged outcome.

DanHSeptember 23, 2017 1:09 PM

It must be something in Massachusetts air or water.

First it is shady Brady and the Patriots, and now the Red Sox.

MarshallSeptember 23, 2017 1:23 PM


Call it ridiculous if you like, but griping is a significant factor in how the game is traditionally played. It made more sense in the days of real civic pride.

PeteSeptember 23, 2017 5:05 PM


Yep, they need better encryption and some flooding of the available bandwidth with false data.

albertSeptember 23, 2017 5:45 PM

@Esteban,
The present technology didn't exist back when those rules were written. Who else but the 2nd base runner could have affected the game? It's a perfectly sensible rule. Circumventing -any- rule is cheating, don't you agree? It cheapens the sport.

BTW, is the runner allowed to signal his team?
. .. . .. --- ....

tongue_in_cheekSeptember 23, 2017 9:09 PM

@Clive Robinson

I guess the easiest thing to do is just ban the hand signals or equivalent
Hahaha! That's a good one :-D

Coyne Tibbets September 24, 2017 7:42 AM

Frankly, I think the complaint is probably envy: "They were better at cheating than we were!"

Clive RobinsonSeptember 24, 2017 8:30 AM

@ tongue_in_cheek, Coyne Tibbets,

Hahaha! That's a good one :-D

And,

They were better at cheating than we were!

Banning signals is going to add that extra "fun element" for "Monday morning Quaterbacks" or whatever the baseball equivalent is.

You can see them herded around the coffee pot arguing about how the Ref missed a blatent signal thus Joe Prohit got caught out because the ref was blind... etc etc.

Why miss out on the opportunity of a new dimension of game spectating

Have we no decency at long last?September 24, 2017 6:35 PM

Who cheats at a game of stickball? Or an election?

Is nothing sacred?

There is a time for sigint and there is a time for baseball and there is a time for Democracy, and anyone who should celebrate a circumvention of due process in any of the above is duly liable for a round of fisticuffs and/or nacho diplomacy. (See Christie)

tongue_in_cheekSeptember 24, 2017 9:00 PM

@Clive Robinson

Now that you say so, it could potentially be a home-run of an educational experience that would earn the the interest of many average Americans about the inns and outs of certain fowls in the broader going-dark/encryption debate ;-)

tongue_in_cheekSeptember 24, 2017 9:17 PM

I blame that on a failure of my copy editor sub-process. Should have said: "would in the long run, earn the interest of a large percentage of average..."

JPSeptember 25, 2017 9:16 AM

@Clive: While I like the show, the only times I watched it so far I was subjected to brazilian television's dubbing (not that bad, all things considered) and commercial breaks which I can't stand. It also didn't help it used to air at inconvenient hours for me. So I have watched very few episodes but it's still in my backlog until I either download it (I wanna avoid this if there are legal alternatives) or sign up to a streaming service that happens to carry it.

@tongue_in_cheek: You could pitch this suggestion, but it doesn't strike me as having much of a chance. You have quite the crowd to convince and so many of them are quite batty. :-)

RachelSeptember 25, 2017 10:56 AM

If only for a headline ' team puts money before ethics, lets down fans, its clearly not about a love for the game'. Apparently the Red Sox are one of the wealthiest teams in the US Series, so its unfortunate for them they werent sophisticated enough not to get caught

BillySeptember 29, 2017 11:48 AM

Seems pretty interesting that this hasn't happened sooner - we have so many developments of technology with apple watches, smart watches in general - it seems that this could've already been happening for some time now. I wonder how many clubhouse personnel or even security guards were aiding in the team finding out signs, what is the repercussions for this?

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