First Pitch: Yankees sign-stealing letter pales in comparison to Astros scandal

The Yankees sign-stealing letter was finally released, and despite the hype and self-described panic that it may stain the franchise altogether, it turns out the organization had nothing to worry about.

Stealing signs through the use of technology is illegal in professional baseball — there is no denying this. But despite the infamous Yankees letter’s hype and expected revelations, the actual thing did not bring with it the same level of spectacle.

No, the Yankees sign-stealing letter is instead nothing more than what we already knew — New York did steal signs in the 2015 and 2016 seasons by relaying a camera feed to a player standing at second base. Said player would then signal to the batter which pitch to expect.

While surely a step beyond the normal means — that is the use of a team-operated camera — it’s surely not to the same level of the Boston Red Sox or Houston Astros scandals before it.

Yankees sign-stealing letter: How does it compare to Red Sox, Astros scandals?

The Red Sox used an Apple Watch to relay signs in real time, as explained via this New York Times article in 2017:

“The Yankees, who had long been suspicious of the Red Sox’ stealing catchers’ signs in Fenway Park, contended the video showed a member of the Red Sox training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout. The trainer then relayed a message to other players in the dugout, who, in turn, would signal teammates on the field about the type of pitch that was about to be thrown, according to the people familiar with the case.”

When warned by MLB, Boston persisted.

The Astros, of course, took matters a step further. Houston stole signs via a centerfield camera and their replay room, which MLB has allowed teams to have since instant replay was initiated in 2014.

Via the replay room, a ‘runner’ would relay what pitch was coming to the Astros dugout, which would make said pitch obvious to the batter in a system that incorporated a garbage can or loud bang. They used said structure throughout their 2017 World Series-winning season, including the playoffs.

Yankees sign stealing letter: What did it say?

The Yankees and president Randy Levine appealed the letter’s release on two occasions, stating that it could be a scar on the reputation of the organization and MLB itself. With this sort of introduction, it’s easy to understand how some fans would jump to conclusions.

I mean, this is the Yankees, after all.

But the actual letter itself is rather vanilla. Sure, it does expose New York’s cheating. That is undeniable. On the other hand, it doesn’t paint the Yanks’ in the same negative light as the rivals of their era.

The Yankees did not receive signs in real time without a runner standing on second base, per Andy Martino, which is a key differentiator in comparison to the Astros scandal.

The letter also makes clear that the allegations against New York are from before Sept. of 2017, which is when Rob Manfred sent a memo to all teams warning of severe punishment against sign stealing involving this sort of technology. This differentiates them from the Red Sox.

And despite previous suggestions by Boston that New York used YES Network cameras to steal signs, it turns out that was a false allegation as well.

Did New York steal signs? Absolutely. The Yankees cheated, and they should be punished for knowingly breaking said rules. Except…they already were. MLB fined the team $100,000, which at that time was unheard of.

Yankees: How should fans feel about sign-stealing letter?

For some fan perspective, I reached out to Yanks Go Yard site expert Adam Weinrib, who definitely isn’t spending his spare time reaching out to every Astros fan he’s met since 2017.

MP: What should be the main fan takeaway from the Yankees sign-stealing letter?

AW: The main takeaway should be…the Yankees didn’t have any grand secret to hide. They tattled on the Red Sox back in the early days of the replay room and were caught doing the same rudimentary things that equate to toeing the line/seeing how much they could get away with in this brand new era of video room access. When told to stop, they stopped. The Red Sox didn’t. The Astros innovated on the form and changed the game.

Nothing Astros fans have attempted to shove in Yankee fans’ faces for years seems to be CLOSE to true. They did nothing in real time. They didn’t use YES Network cameras under shroud of secrecy. Carlos Beltran didn’t invent the form in New York and copy their plans exactly to fuel a Houston championship. The Yankees messed around. The Astros stole a title.

MP: Considering that, in comparison, both the Astros and Red Sox sign-stealing appears worse on paper, why was Randy Levine so concerned in the first place?

AW: Boring Yankee fan answer here, but I genuinely think he was concerned about the precedent — why did the Yankee Letter have to be unsealed, but not the Astros and Red Sox letters, the contents of which are still technically a secret? Also, I think he wanted to create bombast so fans would see what the letter actually contained and say, ” …That’s it?”

MP: Does this impact the Yankees as a franchise or brand moving forward? Could it be used as fodder against them?

AW: It shouldn’t be — all of this information was publicly available in 2017. This is just sort of a bump, reminding the world of what they already know. It won’t stop Astros fans from being toxic on Twitter, but then again nothing will.

MP: Should there be any ramifications from this letter, in terms of players, managers or executives still with the franchise or other organizations around baseball? Obviously this was the case with the Astros scandal.

AW: The $100,000 fine from 2017 (previously unknown information) seems like more than enough punishment to me. The Red Sox behaved in the same fashion, but did so after MLB officially banned the practice — therefore, the minor added penalty of a stolen second-round draft pick. Remember, Alex Cora wasn’t punished for anything Boston did. He only faced repercussions from his actions in Houston.

The Astros? Their next-level scheme resulted in a World Series win that Rob Manfred had to account for — and, again, they were the only ones with real-time video. The Yankees and Red Sox used video footage to gain knowledge, in much the same way a hitter checks out his swing. The Astros had a live Cheat Feed at all times and won a ring. The two situations are not comparable.

Yankees sign-stealing letter: What to make of it

Cheating is cheating, and there’s no doubt the Yankees were one of several teams caught on the wrong side of that line. However, there are levels.

The Red Sox used an Apple Watch to relay information. MLB told them to stop via the same memo the Yankees and other teams received. They did not, which is why they were punished.

The Astros used a sign-stealing scheme to relay what pitch was coming to hitters, even with the bases empty, including in the postseason. They won a tainted World Series.

Say what you want about the Yankees franchise and their fanbase. The jokes do write themselves, time and time again. But — if reports are to be believed — New York was scared straight about a $100,000 fine in 2017. They (apparently) did not steal signs again, and immediately stopped in their tracks.

There is something to be said about learning from past mistakes. The Yankees did just that, regardless of whether it was for moral or financial reasons.

Boston and Houston, meanwhile, continued to cheat the game. In fact, they rode those systems to the top of the baseball mountaintop. That makes a monumental difference when all is said and done.

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