Stealing Signs? OK in My Book.

….with a caveat of course.

No binoculars allowed!

You’d think the Phillies, a Major League Baseball team, could come up with a more creative way to steal pitch signs.  They were caught red-handed last week in a game against the Rockies when a member of the Phillies’ coaching staff was seen on camera peering through binoculars towards home plate.  Shane Victorino was seen on the dugout phone at the same time.

The Phillies claim that Mick Billmeyer, bullpen coach, was watching Carlos Ruiz catch with the binoculars.  Problem is, the Phillies were batting in the top of the second when Billmeyer was caught on camera, making it impossible for Carlos Ruiz to be doing the catching.


Mick Billmeyer, Phillies' bullpen coach, is caught on camera using binoculars, presumably to steal the Rockies' signs (Associated Press)

Apparently, the Rockies aren’t the first team to have concerns about the Phillies’ tactics.  According to this New York Times article, the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets have all expressed concern.

There’s that old expression that goes something like “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire”.  I think that definitely applies here, especially if they’re dumb enough to get caught like that.  Like I said earlier, you’d think Major Leaguers would know how to steal signs.

Stealing signs is without a doubt a big part of baseball, at any level.  My attitude towards it has always been that if a team is not complicated enough with their signs, or at least changing them on a consistent basis, then they’re asking for trouble.

From the NY Times article, “Players, managers and coaches are allowed to try to steal signals, but they cannot use cameras, binoculars or any method beyond their eyes to do so.”

So like I said, it’s part of the game.  But there are some unwritten rules of the game that deal with sign stealing.  Don’t steal signs before high school.  Even the most competitive of travel teams should still be playing for fun.

  1. You don’t look back at the catcher when you’re batting.  This is maybe the biggest no-no in the game.
  2. You don’t use anything more than the naked eye to steal signs.  It’s against the rules anyway.
  3. If you’re on second base, don’t make it obvious that you’re stealing signs.  This is why catchers go through a long series of signs when a runner is on second.

If you get caught doing any of the above, expect the next pitch to crack you in the ribs.

Of course, there’s a right way to do it.  My sophomore year of high school, I broke my jaw sliding into second base.  I was done for the season, but I still wanted to help the team.  I was coaching first base one day and I noticed I could see the catcher’s signs.  I came up with a way to notify the batter, but then they realized I could see.

I then started looking at the coach’s signals, and figured those out.  I tried to get every team’s signs for the rest of my high school career.

It took one team, our archrival, two and a half years to figure out that I had their signs.  They never changed, and by the time they figured out that I was stealing their signs, we were beating them by seven runs in the Regional Championship game.  It was actually kind of funny to see how frustrated they got.

Some guys don’t want to know what pitch is coming, but most do.  Not to gloat, but my teammates hit several home runs because they knew what pitch was coming, and they thanked me for it.

So, next time your favorite team is up by six or seven runs, you might wonder if they know the other team’s signs.


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