Barbara Howard: The Red Sox — they are in hot water. The team is accused of stealing signs, specifically pitching signs, from the New York Yankees and other teams … that was first reported by the New York Times. It was confirmed yesterday by Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, who just happened to be at Fenway Park for last night's 19 inning win over the Toronto Blue Jays. With us to explain the sign stealing and just how much trouble the Sox could be in is Alex Speier. He covers baseball for The Boston Globe. Thanks for joining us Alex.
Alex Speier: My pleasure, Barbara.
Barbara Howard: So what exactly is it that the Red Sox are accused of doing?
Alex Speier: In this case, the Red Sox are accused not just of sign stealing, which is not illegal in baseball, but instead of using electronic devices in order to do so. Chiefly, sending a text message to an assistant trainer’s Apple Watch in the dugout, at which point the assistant trainer communicates information to the players to indicate what the signs that the catcher is giving to a pitcher mean, which in turn could give a Red Sox hitter insight into what's being thrown. It's a kind of complicated and elaborate scheme in some ways, or at least sounds like it, but it basically harkens to a tradition that's been, that’s existed for a long time, with the exception of the fact that there is an electronic implement, an Apple Watch involved in it.
Barbara Howard: Is there any evidence that this alleged sign stealing helped the Red Sox?
Alex Speier: Well, so that's the tricky part. There are different schools of thought regarding whether or not sign stealing — whether or not how helpful sign stealing is. The Yankees allege that the Red Sox were helped considerably in a specific series at Fenway Park last month: August 18th through 20th when the Red Sox won two out of three games. That said, the Yankees pitchers have been somewhat dominant against the Red Sox throughout the rest of the year, so this is a terrible data set basically. In theory, it can help quite a bit, but from a practical standpoint, we don't have a means of discerning that impact.
Barbara Howard: It was the Yankees who supposedly caught the Red Sox in the act, and I understand that the Red Sox have filed a counterclaim against the Yankees saying that they too have been stealing signs. Tell us about that.
Alex Speier: Again, basically every team tries to steal signs. The question is what kinds of mechanisms you use in order to steal signs. The Red Sox have filed a complaint with Major League Baseball suggesting that the Yankees used a camera operated by the Yes Network, which broadcasts their games, to pick up signs that were being relayed from the Red Sox dugout to players on the field.
Barbara Howard: Dave Dombrowski, the Sox president of baseball operations, he seemed to laugh it all off in his statements yesterday. Isn't this kind of a big deal or is it not?
Alex Speier: Eh … I suppose is the best way I can describe it. Again, it relates to a longstanding tradition of sign stealing. There are shenanigans that go on in the game fairly regularly. There have been plenty of allegations through the years of teams using cameras or using monitors in order to try to get a sign stealing advantage. In this case, it is kind of a big deal in that according to that New York Times report, not only did the Yankees catch the Red Sox, but the Red Sox fessed up to it. And so there's a clear violation of the law and, if that's the case, if there is a violation of a Major League Baseball policy, then there's going to be some kind of punishment.
Barbara Howard: What sort of punishment might the Red Sox be facing?
Alex Speier: That is to be determined. The commissioners of the major sports leagues have enormous discretionary power. So as Rob Manfred said yesterday while he was at Fenway Park, if he wanted to, he could probably take wins away from the Red Sox. But he noted that precedent is never to overturn a victory, precisely because of what we were talking about earlier. It's almost impossible to discern the impact on a game of sign stealing, and so as a result, that's probably off the table. Almost certainly, there are going to be fines involved — whether or not there could be people subjected to suspensions, it would at least be a topic that Major League Baseball would likely explore. But I would think that in terms of the most drastic response, taking wins away and jeopardizing the Red Sox playoff position, that's not going to happen.
Barbara Howard: But all of this calls to mind the various Patriots scandals, Deflategate, Spygate before that, you know when it comes to sports is New England getting a reputation for cheating?
Alex Speier: I think that nationally there's probably a narrative that grows out of this. I mean, if you watch national coverage of this, it will invariably link what's happening right now with the Red Sox and this Apple watch phenomenon to Spygate. Whether or not that's fair is another question entirely. And again, I think that we're dealing with fairly common efforts by teams not just in New England, but across sports in order to try to get informational advantages on their on their opponents.
Barbara Howard: OK, thanks for joining us Alex.
Alex Speier: My pleasure, Barbara Thank you.
Barbara Howard: That's Alex Speier. He covers baseball for The Boston Globe. He was speaking with us about the reports that the Red Sox have been stealing signs using electronic devices ... a violation of Major League Baseball rules.