Looking for any edge in an age-old rivalry, the Boston Red Sox got called out in a high-tech sign-stealing scheme they ran on the New York Yankees.
The first-place Red Sox admitted to Major League Baseball that they used an Apple Watch to relay signals from opposing catchers to Boston players, The New York Times reported Tuesday. Sign stealing has long been a part of the game, but employing electronic gadgets to do it is against the rules.
MLB is looking into allegations levied by the Yankees after a series between the teams last month in Boston. The Times said the Red Sox told MLB investigators that Boston manager John Farrell, general Dave Dombrowski and other team executives were not aware of the operation, which had been going on for weeks.
Commissioner Rob Manfred, who was at Fenway Park on Tuesday night as part of a previously planned visit, said he wanted to get the matter resolved quickly. He didn't comment about possible penalties.
"The only thing that I can tell you about repercussions is that to the extent that there was a violation on either side — and I'm not saying that there was — to the extent that there was a violation on either side, we are 100 percent comfortable that it is not an ongoing issue — that if it happened, it is no longer happening," he said.
This isn't the first time a successful Boston-area sports franchise has been accused of cheating in recent years.
New England Patriots star Tom Brady was suspended four games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after the "Deflategate" investigation concluded the quarterback conspired to use illegally underinflated footballs in the 2015 AFC championship game. The Pats also were docked a first-round draft pick.
Years earlier, the five-time Super Bowl champions were caught videotaping signals being sent in by Jets coaches during a 2007 game — the Patriots lost a first-round pick in the 2008 draft and coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 in "Spygate."
The Red Sox hold a narrow lead over the Yankees in the AL East race with a month left in the regular season. The teams don't play again this season.
Farrell said he knew the rule.
"Electronic devices are not to be used in the dugout," he said Tuesday before Boston hosted the Toronto Blue Jays. "But beyond that, the only thing I can say it's a league matter at this point."
Dombrowski said it was the first time a team he'd worked for had been formally accused of stealing signs.
"I've been in the game for 40 years. I've known of it for 40 years, sign stealing itself," Dombrowski said. "I've known of people that I talk to that played back in the '50's that talked to me about sign stealing, so I do think sign stealing has been taking place for a long time. I will acknowledge that."
The Times, according to unidentified sources, said the MLB probe started after Yankees general manager Brian Cashman filed a complaint with the commissioner's office that included video. The newspaper said the video showed a member of Boston's training staff looking at his Apple Watch in the dugout and relaying a message to players.
"I think there was something that was suspected of going on," Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said before Tuesday night's game in Baltimore.
The Times said the Red Sox filed a complaint Tuesday against the Yankees, alleging the club used a camera from its YES television network to steal opponents' signs.
"No chance," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Said Manfred: "I do believe that this is a charged situation from a competitive perspective, when you have the kind of rivalry that the Yankees and the Red Sox have. I guess it's not shocking you could have charges and counter-charges like this."
The Times said the Red Sox told MLB investigators that club personnel watched monitors and then electronically sent pitch signals to team trainers in the dugout, who relayed the information to players.
The newspaper said video showed Boston assistant athletic trainer Jon Jochim checking his Apple Watch and relaying the info to Red Sox players Brock Holt and second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The newspaper said one clip showed Pedroia passing along the intelligence to Boston outfielder Chris Young, who formerly played for the Yankees.
The Red Sox won two of three from the Yankees during the series Aug. 18-20. The Times reported that in the first game, after Boston first put a runner on second, Rafael Devers hit a home run. The Red Sox went 5 for 8 in that game when they had a runner at second and won 9-6.
Sign stealing to help hitters know what pitch is coming has long been a part of baseball lore. Often times it happens when a runner at second base peers in to see the catcher's sign and then subtly flashes a signal — maybe a hand movement, or the positioning of his feet — to the batter to let him know whether the next pitch will be a fastball, curveball or something else.
The most famous example of sign stealing was a secret for almost a half-century. It took that long before it was positively revealed the New York Giants used a spyglass-and-buzzer system to relay pitch signals to their hitters during their famed 1951 chase of the Brooklyn Dodgers, which culminated with Bobby Thomson's bottom-of-the-ninth, winning homer in the decisive Game 3 of their NL playoff.
Players are allowed to try to figure out the opponents' signals on their own. Computers, cameras and electronics are not permitted.
To combat signs being stolen, teams often change their signals when an opposing runner reaches second base. Signs can change from batter to batter and even pitch to pitch — the Yankees are a team that frequently has its catcher go out to the mound to discuss with pitchers what to throw.
Electronics and video have become more a part of baseball and all sports in recent years. The increased usage has also put leagues on alert over how to control improprieties in many areas.
In July 2016, a federal judge sentenced the former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals to nearly four years in prison for hacking the Houston Astros' player-personnel database and email system.
"Electronics is the world we live in today," Girardi said. "It's changed the world we live in and it will continue to change as we move on. Again, there has to be something the catcher, the pitcher and the middle infielders can do to combat all this. Football's gone to headset. They've talked about how they don't know how feasible that is in the game of baseball, but I think we have to try something."
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