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Signs
Posted: 05 September 2017 02:26 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Sorry if this is inappropriate here but I just can’t work out what’s going on in this basesball story. Stealing signs?

The Red Sox have admitted that they used electronic communication to steal opponents’ signs and relay them to Boston players during games, according to the New York Times.

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Posted: 05 September 2017 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It refers to hand signals, particularly from the catcher to the pitcher, advising the latter on what kind of pitch to throw.  Although it seems to me that it would be a normal part of the game, apparently looking at and deciphering the opposing teams signs (stealing them) is considered unfair.  I can certainly see that having someone watching the catcher with binoculars, etc., and radioing the results to the batter or men on base goes beyond the pale.

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Posted: 05 September 2017 10:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’m puzzled as to why the catcher would have a better idea than the pitcher as to what kind of ball should be pitched.

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Posted: 06 September 2017 03:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Those aren’t the only signs being used.  Often times the third base coach will sign to active runners when to run (steal base, etc.) and how far to run, and when to hit the dirt.  Knowing in advance that a runner is about to steal to second gives the defending team a much greater chance at a pick.  As for the catcher giving signs to the pitcher, it is usually a short conversation between the two directed at what they both pretty much agree is the next best pitch.  This would provide for better defense if they both agree that the next pitch is going to be a bit high resulting in bunt or badly hit in-field fluke, so that they both know their proper defensive positioning as a result.  Most decent hitters today don’t buy into the high-ball though.  But a few still do.  Regardless, the next pitch has a huge number of variables to consider.  If you know what the other team is going to do, it gives you a massive advantage as to what to do about it.

In my humble opinion, attempting to read the other teams conversation in any way kind of destroys one’s honor.  This is a game to be played fairly and trying to gain an upper hand by doing this is scandalous at best.  Sports today is no longer about playing the game - it’s about getting the win, the endorsement, the paycheck.  What have we done to ourselves?

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Posted: 06 September 2017 03:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It’s not that the catcher knows more than the pitcher, it’s about them both knowing exactly what pitch to expect. The catcher needs to know where the pitch is going to lessen the possibility of errors. Expecting a high inside fast ball and getting a low outside curve makes the catcher’s job difficult. If the pitcher did the signaling it would be tantamount to what the Red Sox did that prompted this thread - the pitcher can be seen by everyone. The catcher is behind the batter and so can more easily make unobserved signals, and can also signal unexpected changes directed by the coach.

Edit: Pipped!

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Posted: 06 September 2017 03:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Where’s Richard H when we need him?

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Posted: 06 September 2017 04:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Overall pitching strategy and how to pitch to each batter is usually decided before the game by the manager, pitching coach, catcher, and pitchers. The signals are just the last-minute confirmation or change due to circumstance. There’s a great story in George Will’s Men At Work of just such a strategy session for the L.A. Dodgers in the 1960s. The Dodgers pitching staff at the time was one of the best ever, with Koufax, Drysdale, Sutton, and others. Before a game against the Atlanta Braves they went down the batting roster, calling out how to pitch to each one. When they got to Hank Aaron the room fell silent. Then one voice in the back called out, “just hope no one is on base when he hits it out of the park.”

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Posted: 06 September 2017 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Great story, Dave!

I’m puzzled as to why the catcher would have a better idea than the pitcher as to what kind of ball should be pitched.

While Westim and Bayaker are right, it’s also true that the catcher is frequently the player with the most all-encompassing understanding of what’s going on in the game.  That’s why catchers make good managers (and why Tim McCarver is such a good broadcaster—we Met fans were very lucky to have him for so many years).

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Posted: 06 September 2017 07:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Skibberoo - 06 September 2017 03:42 AM

Where’s Richard H when we need him?

Why look!  Up in the sky!  I do believe that is the Bat Signal!

Stealing signs:  Much has been written on when and how sign stealing is a Bad Thing.  First off, there is no actual rule against it.  On the other hand, the Commissioner of Baseball has considerable power to unilaterally make up rules and then enforce them.  This places us in the realm of the mythical Unwritten Rules of Baseball, about which there is no universal consensus even among active players and coaches, and some of which are clearly bullshit, and the dark mystery of how the Commissioner will take all this. 

That being said, there is a long-standing widespread consensus that while stealing signs is part of the game, you can only do this with the naked eye and only with on-field personnel (i.e. players and coaches).  Once additional equipment or persons get involved, this has crossed the line.  Back in the day this meant stuff like not placing a guy in the outfield scoreboard with binoculars and a telephone.  There also was a famous incident where the third base coach was receiving information via a buzzer buried under his feet.  In the present instance, the objection is not that the Red Sox stole signs, but how they did it and how they transmitted the information.

About the nature of those signs, teams typically have two sets:  one simple and one complicated.  The simple set can be the same kind kids have used for over a century:  one finger for a fast ball, two for a curve ball (hence the “deuce"), etc.  This is used when no runners are on base, particularly on second.  Anyone watching the video feed from the center field camera can tell what pitch is coming.  The complicated set is used when runners are on base, particularly on second, as the runner can potentially see the sign and have some prearranged signal to relay the information to the batter.  The complicated set is secret, typically involving a series of decoy signs with a prearranged cue for which is the real one.  Teams will have multiple versions, so they can change the version should they suspect the code has been broken. 

Why is it the catcher doing the signalling?  This was a topic of debate in the 19th century.  The advantage of its being the catcher is that it is easier to hide the signal.  The pitcher would have to use a complicated version, and there would be many eyes watching it trying to break the code.  The advantage of the pitcher doing the signalling is that he is the person in the best position to have an informed opinion on the subject.  The modern system is a compromise.  The catcher does the signalling, but it is subject to the approval of the pitcher, who can shake off a sign.  Of course if a young pitcher shakes off signs from an experienced veteran catcher, the manager will have something to say, but this is like a junior lieutenant and a senior sergeant.

Also, as a practical matter, the catcher sees any given batter a lot more frequently than does the pitcher, simply because he is on the field more.  Also as a practical matter, while the pitcher can shake off a sign there is a natural tendency not to.  A catcher being a good game caller is a soft skill that is hard to quantify, but definitely real.

[ Edited: 06 September 2017 07:50 AM by Richard Hershberger ]
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Posted: 06 September 2017 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Westim - 06 September 2017 03:33 AM

Sports today is no longer about playing the game - it’s about getting the win, the endorsement, the paycheck.  What have we done to ourselves?

As a student of 19th century baseball, it warms my heart to see tradition maintained.  Versions of this complaint antedate the Civil War.

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Posted: 06 September 2017 07:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave Wilton - 06 September 2017 04:05 AM

Overall pitching strategy and how to pitch to each batter is usually decided before the game by the manager, pitching coach, catcher, and pitchers. The signals are just the last-minute confirmation or change due to circumstance. There’s a great story in George Will’s Men At Work of just such a strategy session for the L.A. Dodgers in the 1960s. The Dodgers pitching staff at the time was one of the best ever, with Koufax, Drysdale, Sutton, and others. Before a game against the Atlanta Braves they went down the batting roster, calling out how to pitch to each one. When they got to Hank Aaron the room fell silent. Then one voice in the back called out, “just hope no one is on base when he hits it out of the park.”

James Brosnan has a similar anecdote in The Long Season, but it is about Willie Mays.

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Posted: 06 September 2017 10:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Sports today is no longer about playing the game

Has it ever been?  I would say that that depends, more than anything else, on the level at which sports are carried out. In a back yard, sport for sport’s sake may be a phrase with some meaning. But on higher levels, where money and prestige are involved — it stops being for sport’s sake alone. Look at the history of the ancient Olympic games, more than two thousand years ago: full of stories of bribes, of matches sold, of contracts taken out on the lives of promising competitors. Nothing new is happening.  Many, if not all, sports events today are contests in which the winner is the one who has discovered a drug which the judges aren’t yet able to detect.

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Posted: 06 September 2017 12:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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lionello - 06 September 2017 10:50 AM

Sports today is no longer about playing the game

Has it ever been?

Here is the earliest known (to me) complaint that people nowadays aren’t playing baseball The Right Way.  It is from The Happy Home and Parlor Magazine of December 1, 1858:

Ball-Playing has become an institution.  It is no longer a healthful recreation in which persons of sedentary habits engage for needful relaxation and exercise; but it is now an actual institution.  Young men associate for this object, organize themselves into an association, with constitution and laws to control them, and then plunge into the amusement with a sort of “Young America” fanaticism.  In almost every town throughout all this region there is one of these regularly formed and inaugurated ball-clubs, the members of which meet frequently to practice the art, for the sake of being able to worst some neighboring club whom they challenge, or by whom they are challenged, to a hot contest.  The matter has become a sort of mania, and on this account we speak of it.  In itself a game at ball is an innocent and excellent recreation but when the sport is carried so far as it is at the present time, it becomes a public nuisance.
Our reasons for this conclusion are the following.
1.  It has become a species of gambling.  One club challenges another to a trial of their skill, and sometimes the victorious party are to be treated by the vanquished, to a dinner or supper.  What would be the difference if the two parties should institute cards and ten-pins for the ball?
2.  On these occasionS a large collection of people are usually present.  There is no objection to crowds, provided they meet for a worthy object.  But if the object be evil, or is not an elevated one, the gathering usually becomes more or less censurable.  Is it a very elevating scene to witness—the trial of skill at ball-playing between two parties of young men?  We think not.  It is about the same as rope-dancing, and certain equestrian amusements, that some low-bred performers perpetrate through the country for money.  Then there is betting on these occasions, as there was at one of which we have had a description, where two thousand people were assembled. There is much confusion, too, even where intoxicating drinks are not to be had, and more when they are carried clandestinely upon the grounds, as they have been in certain instances.
There is evil in all this, without any counterbalancing good.
3.  Much profanity appears to be incidental to this way of playing ball.  One club played for some weeks so near our studio, that every oath came right into the window like black, smoking cinders from the pit.  A neighboring ball-club met them on their grounds several times, and then the swearing was awful.  How young men could contrive to use so dexterously the worst words in the English language was really surprising.  They would not have sworn more lustily if profanity had been necessary to propel the ball.
The name of the club was “Base Ball Club.” We asked a young man, why they call it “Base” remarking that once it was called Round Ball.  Before he had time to reply we said, “Is it because they have so much swearing/” He saw that the name was rather significant, so that he had not much to reply.  We understand that some clubs have introduced laws against the use of profane language, which is well, if the laws can be enforced.  But we apprehend that they will not avail much for two reasons.  One is, that a large majority of the members are swearing young men.  They are in the habit of using this language, and it will take more than the rule of such an association to break them of it.  The second reason is, that, as this amusement is now sustained, it provokes profanity, so that moderate swearers in other places will become immoderate on
these exciting occasions.
4.  It is a great waste of time and money.  Two or three times a week many young men spend a part of the afternoon in this sport, and then occasionally a whole day in trying their skill with a neighboring club.  Attending this there is the expense of their organization, the price of dinners and suppers, of horses and carriages to convey them to adjoining towns frequently, together with the loss of their time.  If they were compelled to spend as much time and money to support preaching in the community, they would pronounce it an onerous tax.
5.  It is physically injurious.  Playing at ball in a moderate way for exercise is healthful for sedentary people.  But this long, violent and exciting way of playing wears and tears the system.  It is excessively wearisome and exhausting, much more so than tilling the farm, or making boots.
6.  It absorbs the mind to the neglect of imperative duties.  We are confident that employers will bear witness, that those young men, who become most absorbed in this sport, take less interest in their daily labor.  This is a natural consequence.  We heard an excellent school teacher complain this summer, that ball-laying had destroyed the interest of her male pupils in their school.  They had caught the mania, and formed a club after the manner of the older persons, and all they seemed to think of was getting
out of the school-room to enjoy the sport.
For these reasons we class ball-clubs, as now existing, with circus exhibitions, military musters, pugilistic feats, cock-fighting, &c; all of which are nuisances in no small degree.

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Posted: 06 September 2017 03:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Wonderful posts, Richard! Not only have I had my original question fully answered but I get to read that delightful 19th century piece. “ ... much more so than tilling the farm, or making boots.” Priceless!

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Posted: 06 September 2017 05:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I suppose that I am among the few people in the world whose lofty ambition is to simply enjoy playing a game without regard to who actually wins.  I have thrown many games of many titles for the sole purpose of maintaining the companionship within.  My wife won’t play with me anymore.

I have mentioned before that I used to work for a gaming company.  I have stated many times that if ever I created a game where I couldn’t be beaten soundly, I would quit out of disgust for my own misdeed.  The Player of Games by Scottish author Iain M. Banks was simply amazing.  I would love to see this as a movie.  As far as I know there is only one REAL player of games.  His name is Michael Legg and he runs Petroglyph Games.  If you ever have the opportunity to play with him - and the number of games he has played astounds - do it.  He is a real pleasure and a true Gentleman.

There is one exchange in the movie Field of Dreams that I always recall and enjoy immensely:

Shoeless Joe Jackson: Man, I did love this game. I’d have played for food money. It was the game… The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?
Ray Kinsella: Yeah.
Shoeless Joe Jackson: I used to love travelling on the trains from town to town. The hotels… brass spittoons in the lobbies, brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd, rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I’d play for nothing!

I am afraid those days are gone.  I hope I am wrong.

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Posted: 07 September 2017 04:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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@Westim:  The thing is, the writer of that Happy Home and Parlor Magazine piece from 1858 would be appalled by Shoeless Joe’s attitude, playing for the adulation of the masses.  He was writing before professionalism had entered baseball, yet he still found cause for complaint about the players’ motivation.  The older model he favored was of an informal schoolyard game:  divide the boys into two sides and play for innocent fun.  Winning is better than losing, but competitiveness is moderated by the game being within a single larger group, and the sides will be different in tomorrow’s game.  The 1850s saw the rise of the organized baseball club and matches between clubs.  These were intensely competitive, hence the writer’s comment about ‘ a sort of “Young America” fanaticism.’ Disgraceful!  Ten years later, with the rise of professionalism, baseball of the 1850s would be remembered as the lost ideal, when players competed merely for the honor of their club. 

The Golden Age of baseball is twelve.  Always remember that when you were twelve, there was some old guy complaining about the sad state of baseball, not like when he was a kid and they played the right way for the right reasons.

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