MLB

MLB sign-stealing controversy expands; where do things go from here?

A new report from The Athletic implicates more teams and broadens the scope of MLB’s investigation into electronic sign stealing. Where do they go from here?

The Astros might not be the only team who used electronic sign stealing to take them to the World Series.

According to a new report from The Athletic, the MLB sign-stealing controversy goes much deeper than previously thought. The Astros were previously implicated and under investigation, but now, the Red Sox and Yankees are also directly implicated with the new information. But the report suggests that many more teams could be using some form of sign stealing.

The main source for teams appears to be the video replay room. The Yankees and the Red Sox were both fined after the 2017 season for inappropriately using the video replay room, but teams continued to exploit the gray-area in MLB’s rules.

According to The Athletic’s sources with the 2018 Red Sox team, at least some players visited the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence opponents were using. They would then communicate the sequence to baserunners who could tip off batters. A key difference drawn between these systems and that of the Astros was the move of communication and need for a runner on base to pass the message on within the field of play.

In a statement responding within the report, MLB said, “The Commissioner made clear in a September 15, 2017 memorandum to clubs how seriously he would take any future violation of the regulations regarding use of electronic equipment or the inappropriate use of the video replay room. Given these allegations, MLB will commence an investigation into this matter.”

MLB brought in people to monitor the video replay room during the 2018 postseason and stuck with that system through the 2019 system. But some Red Sox employees suggested that system could be exploited, depending on who was in the room and how seriously they took their job.

Where does MLB go from here? As one former Yankees player pointed out to The Athletic, “It’s there for everyone.” Every team has a replay room at both home and away stadiums, and as of right now, players have access to it. This issue also brings up broader questions about the impact technology is having on baseball and how to ensure that everyone is using that technology in a fair way.

As The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich write:

Even if MLB completely locked down replay rooms, what would stop a player or staffer from going into the clubhouse, checking their phone and receiving a message about the sign sequences from afar? Locking down not just video rooms, but dugouts — forcing players to stay on the field of play for the length of games, with exceptions for injuries — may be the only way to create a virtually airtight system.

But such a system would fail to prevent players from wearable tech such as an earpiece. This sort of technology would be difficult to regulate without searching players before they go into the dugout.

“I am concerned about the impact of technology in and around the field,” Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of MLB, said at the Nov. 2019 owners meetings after the Astros investigation began. “I think it’s a challenge for our sport and all sports to regulate the use of that technology in a way that makes sure that we have the integrity.”

The 2017 and 2018 World Series champions are both now under investigation for using technology to steal signs. It’s unlikely that the story stops there.

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