Imagine if you will that it is August 1998 or 1999 or some year around then. It’s Yankee Stadium. It is the top of the 9th inning and the Yankees have a one run lead. You are the lead off hitter. The only bad part of this scenario is, you’re wearing a Red Sox uniform but cheer up. You’re twenty-five years old and you’re having a pretty good year hitting .282. On the mound, as the Yankees want to hold onto that lead is Mariano Rivera. The guy who will be the first player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility with his name on every ballot. Now guess what he is going to throw you? For those of you who aren’t baseball fans that means what pitch will you get? Just in case you don’t follow the game too much, Mariano Rivera is going to throw you a cut fastball.
How do we know that? Did we steal the sign? Not hardly. We know that because that’s what Mariano threw like 99% of the time. Mariano did have a rising fastball and a sinking fastball but he’d throw those pitches like only once in a blue moon. The rest of the time like 99% of the time, it was that cut fastball. So, if you didn’t see that cutter on the first, pitch you’d see it on the second, the third and if you were still at home plate and not headed back to the dugout, you’d see that on the fourth and the fifth pitch too. Then you’d be headed back to the dugout.
In fact, from 1995 through 2013 that’s nineteen seasons through thousands and thousands of at bats major league hitters walked up to home plate to face Mariano Rivera and they all knew what was coming. And it didn’t help them much. That’s why Mariano Rivera amassed 652 saves, a record that will most probably never be broken and had a lifetime ERA of 2.21. If you don’t follow baseball those numbers mean batters didn’t hit him too much, even though they all knew what pitch was coming 99% of the time.
Which brings us to this latest scandal of sign stealing by the Houston Astros. There is much gnashing of teeth, calls for people to be banned for life, people have actually been fired and there are even some who want to take down the Astros only World Series title. There is blood in the water. It seems we can’t have a reasonable discussion about anything, anymore. Everything, seems like a WWE match. That’s the World Wrestling Entertainment or Professional Wrestling, with people throwing chairs, pulling hair and fake blood everywhere.
Everyone needs to take a deep breath. Stealing signs is part of the game. Everyone does it. Pitchers tip pitches or give away what pitch they will throw as they get ready to throw that pitch. Coaches pick that up and signal the hitters. Base runners who reach second base can steal signs from the catcher and signal the hitter. Now some hitters in fact, a lot of hitters, don’t even want to know what’s coming. When, you’re young and your reflexes are great, you just read the pitch and react. You don’t want to be thinking too much up there. You don’t need too either. Or as Yogi once said. “You can’t think and hit at the same time.”
Now using a TV monitor to steal signs like the Astros did is definitely cheating. I mean it’s going way too far. But it’s a misdemeanor not a felony. A simple solution is to do what the NFL does. The Offensive Coordinator has a dedicated phone line to the Quarterback. The Offensive Coordinator calls the play over that line. You see these guys every game with the play card over their mouth, so no one can even read their lips. But no one else can hear the call. No signs needed. Just do the same thing with both the pitcher and the catcher having an ear piece like an NFL Quarterback has and the pitching coach calls the pitches. The pitching coach doesn’t have much to do anyway. This will make him happy.
And, calm down everybody. The fix was not in. As we’ve pointed out just knowing watch pitch is coming doesn’t necessarily help much. It certainly doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a hit.
Pitchers and Catchers report in a few weeks. The sun will be shinning in Florida and Arizona. Spring, eternal spring, will arrive again and we’ll all be young again because it will be time to…
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