I work for a large national retailer. We have various procedures in place to try and discourage shoplifters and at times end up having to involve the police. In regular every day life, stealing is not considered kosher, accepted, revered. Baseball however, is a world unto itself.
Stealing bases in baseball is not only allowed, but encouraged. Two of the most highly touted players in my lifetime, rickey Henderson and Lou Brock, built careers more on their ability as base theives than anything else. So, I am both amused and perplexed as to the whole kerfuffle this year about the more innocuous, and less-verifiable, “stealing signs.”
First the Jays opened a can of whoop-ass on the Yankees for two games, and the New York media and manager Joe Girardi were essentially accusing toronto of stealing his catcher’s signs. (Though to his credit, New York catcher Russ Martin said it was his responsibility to prevent it happening… hmm, martin’s birthplace was Toronto… conspiracy anyone??)
Now this week self-proclaimed smartest man in the history of baseball, tony LaRussa, is all aflutter, bitching and whining about how Milwaukee scored 5 runs in an inning on his (inferior) Cardinals team. He accuses Milwaukee of “stealing” and “relaying” signals from second.
If the accusations are true, I say… Good On You, Blue Jays and Brewers!! You’re obviously more attuned to the game and smarter than the average bear.. or at least the average Cardinal or Yankee. Baseball these days is all about trying to out-smart your opponent. Batters watch video of the pitchers they’re going to face, pithers do the same with videos of the opposing hitters, all trying to get a leg up and discern a pattern … pitch tendencies, patterns of fast balls vs changeups, pitches swung at vs pitches ignored or pitches drilled for home runs. Baseball is a game of statistics and probabilities and mental gambling (note I say “mental” Alex R, not cocaine on the table ‘card” gambling). Catchers giving signs via fingers to their pitcher for pitch selection is all a part of the mental game. SO, if a team can manage to pick up on those signals and relay them to their hitter to give him a fraction of an edge , knowing what pitch is coming, I say “good.” they’re merely doing their job better than the others.
However, I really doubt the accusations are true. For one thing, second base is about 120 feet away from home. Most ordinary people wouldn’t be able to see whether a crouching catcher, forty yards away, is holding down one finger or two for two-thirds of a second. Second, we see first base and third base coaches giving their players signals. It’s one of the most mocked bits of the game… rubbing their tummies, stroking their chins, pulling their left ear while scratching their crotches…all an elaborate series of signs which are designed to tell the hitter or base runner something. One might think if the runner at second is doing the same for the hitter, we’d see him go thru a similar set of ridiculous motions. We never do, unless either standing still, ready to run , or standing relaxed chewing the fat with the opposing team’s infielder is some sort of uber-clever sign.
It seems to me that a runner at second has to concentrate on the pitcher to see if he’s throwing home or over to his base, and pay attention to his third base coach. The hitter needs to concentrate on the pitcher and anticipate the pitch. For them to waste time trying to relay a message about “fastball” or “slider outside” between bases would be counter-productive, distracting both players… the batter would be watching second base instead of the pitch, and the base runner would be too focussed on the catcher and seeing if his teammate got the message to pay attention to if he was going to be picked off.
Seems to me the only thing that really was stolen in these cases was the self-important belief that girardi and La Russa are infallible managers who simply can’t be at the helm of a team which occasionally plays lousy games and looks bad.
So, the Jays broadcast a couple of nights ago showed a clip of a Cinci game where Arnoldis Chapman had tossed a baseball right through the screen behind home plate. The commentators marveled at the 99mph heater. I on the other hand said “that’s what I’m talking about— chapman can’t pitch!!” sure he can throw , and throw hard, but there’s a world of difference between pitching and throwing. Chapman can throw 130 miles per hour for all I care; until he learns to find the strike zone and confuse batters, I wouldn’t want him on my team. Jays caught a break by being outbid for his services by the Reds.
Even when talking about the clip, the Jays crew enthused that Chapman had such good “stuff”. Lord help us. The worst thing I could think about ascribing to a pitcher is good “stuff”. It’s the universal term given to lousy pitchers who can’t control their pitches, lose regularly and frustrate managers and general managers who worry about the optics of spending so much money on a guy who is hopeless.
By the way, tonight, by my estimation, was the 200th time this year I’ve heard that Kyle Drabek, of the blue Jays Las Vegas farm team , has “great stuff.”