Cheating in baseball: a tale of telescopes and electroshock therapy

Yeah, you know what game this is from. - Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The road to the World Series has been explosive and I can attest to staying up until early in the morning watching some of the best baseball I’ve seen in a postseason to date. While clubhouses are celebrating and preparing for the next series, accusations and speculation about alleged sign stealing is becoming a hot take.

I won’t lie – I used to be one of those baseball fans that would sarcastically quote movies or ad-lib conversation over the exchange of signs between coach and player.

Okay, maybe I still am. Just me?

If there’s one part I admire the most about baseball, it’s that the sport is so multifaceted and extremely rich in history. Cheating in baseball is such an intensely heated debate, and I’ve noticed in-depth conversations about it more frequently, with players becoming more vocal about it too.

But when did it all start and why is it still a major issue?

There’s an infinite scroll of articles, videos, and theories all relative to cheating in baseball, going as far back as 1900. So, I took it upon myself to mark down and dust off the historical evolution of cheating in baseball.

Saddle up.

1900 Phillies vs. Reds

More often than not, oddities are what make a player or coach stand out. Phillies fans knew third-base coach Pearce Chiles had an interesting leg twitch, which remarkably, only seemed to surface during home games. During this doubleheader, Reds shortstop Tommy Corcoran took a keen interest in the twitch, thundered over to third-base, literally kicked up the dirt to find a wooden chest filled with wires. Wires? I’m glad you asked. Phillies catcher Morgan Murphy strategically placed himself behind a sign in the outfield, used a telescope to steal the signs and then sent shocks to the third-base coach through the wires, allowing Chiles to tell the batter the pitches being thrown. The signals corresponded to what pitch was being thrown, thus, the twitch. Baseball Morse code, ladies and gents.

1919 "Black Sox" Scandal

This game might not inherently fall under the category of "cheating," but there was enough contributing evidence that showed the series may have been fixed. It was the World Series match-up between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, with the White Sox already prevailing as the front-runner with bets stacked in their favor. To be blunt, players were making slim pickins’ in comparison to what players rake in now. With the White Sox being the favorites, a prominent New York mobster approached eight key members of the team to bribe them with a one hundred thousand dollar cash-out if they lost the series. To signal that the bribe was in full effect, the White Sox pitcher would hit the first batter with one of his pitches in game one of the series. With the Reds leading the series, sources claimed that the bribed players weren’t getting their share, so the White Sox attempted to take the lead. In the end, the Reds won the best-of-nine series, and the accused Sox players were banned from baseball.

1951 "Shot heard ‘round the world"
Battle of the boroughs: Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Giants. Bobby Thomson became the neighborhood hero when he blasted a three-run homerun off a fastball tossed by Ralph Branca, giving the Giants the edge to win the National League pennant. The Dodgers, the obvious favorite, were eliminated and speculation began to spiral and tarnished a legendary moment in Giants’ history. It was later determined that in the Giant’s manager’s office, overlooking centerfield, was a telescope allowing someone to scout signs, and send them down to a buzzer system linked up to the dugout and bullpen, giving batters a heads-up to the next pitch. While many players came forward in later years, Thomson was adamant about keeping that moment in his career untouched.

Cheating has been a dynamic in baseball for decades and still remains a huge topic of debate. But it isn’t just a historical factor. Take Sammy Sosa – he was caught in 2003 with a bat hollowed, lined and filled with cork, an illegal movement to make hit balls fly further, and a move utilized by many before him.

Remember when the Tigers played the White Sox in 2014? Let’s refresh.

Chris Sale, then White Sox pitcher, believed that Tigers Victor Martinez was getting signs from someone seated in centerfield after V-Mart allegedly made a "tip of the cap" movement towards centerfield in the third inning. Later on in the sixth, Sale hit V-Mart with a pitch, benches clearing simultaneously, with the infamous "binoculars" gesture coming out to play. Sale later denied anything to do with the gesture and the assumption that the Tigers were stealing signs, so Ian Kinsler retaliated by using the "binoculars" nod whenever he made it on base. Good on ya, Kinsler.

What about when the St. Louis Cardinals were caught hacking into the Houston Astros database? Or, when the Boston Red Sox electronically relayed signs taken from the New York Yankees. More recently, the Red Sox accused the Astros of allegedly hiring an employee to take photo and video evidence of the Red Sox dugout in game one of the ALCS. The Milwaukee Brewers also suspected the Los Angeles Dodgers of doing the same.

With all this evidence and all these accusations, why does this keep happening?

Cleveland Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer is pretty vocal when it comes to baseball, and with a recent tweet responding to the Astros ALCS incident, voiced his concern for "more transparency," and "#NeverSettle when searching for the truth."

I went to the 2018 edition Official Major League Baseball rules.

The truth? There is no rule against sign stealing.

It’s frowned upon in the baseball community and it’s a definite stain on the league and the team if you’re caught in the act, but the question is, how do you monitor and regulate stealing signs?

Sending Major League scouts to opposing teams to "watch" players is deemed fair, but if you think about it, wouldn’t that be considered spying and fall under the same category as sign stealing?

I’m a baseball purist, and I believe that it’s up to the MLB to step up to the plate and make a rule against it, but until then, it’s inevitable that it’ll continue to happen.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the <em>Bless You Boys</em> writing staff.