Memorable Sign-Stealing Moments in Major League Baseball History

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2012

Memorable Sign-Stealing Moments in Major League Baseball History

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    A pair of recent incidents have put sign stealing in the news once again, and it seems like every year at least a handful of players—or even an entire team—are accused of stealing a catcher's signs and tipping off the hitter.

    While there are no express written rules that make sign-stealing illegal in baseball, it is generally accepted as against the game's code of ethics and frowned upon if someone is caught doing it.

    It is generally a case of a base-runner at second base tipping off the hitter as to pitch type or location in some way, but over the years there have been some far more elaborate examples of sign stealing in the MLB.

    Here is a quick look at some memorable sign-stealing moments in MLB history.

Robert Andino vs. Yankees

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    The most recent indiscretion of sign-stealing, or at least alleged sign-stealing, took place on Monday in a game between the Yankees and Orioles, 

    After the final out of the game was made, Andino yelled at Yankees catcher Russell Martin as the victorious Yankees made their way down the handshake line at midfield, as seen in the video here.

    He was evidently egged on by Martin, who had something to say to Andino after he believed he was tipping the location of Mariano Rivera's pitches in the final inning. 

    Allegations like this from Martin are nothing new, but more on that later.

Willie Bloomquist vs. Giants

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    While it got far less publicity than the Yankees vs. Orioles incident this past week, another similar situation turned up with Willie Bloomquist standing on second base for the Diamondbacks in a game against the Giants. 

    Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval began yelling to Bloomquist during a mound visit after he thought the Diamondbacks shortstop was relaying signs to the batter, as seen in the video here.

    The two met a pitch later when Justin Upton was walked and Bloomquist advanced to third base, but Sandoval was quick to waive off the situation and nothing more came of it.

Russell Martin vs. Blue Jays

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    Getting back to Yankees catcher Russell Martin, just last season he came forward and accused the Blue Jays of stealing signs following a 16-7 loss in which Yankees starter Bartolo Colon allowed eight first innings runs.

    “You move your head one way it’s a fastball, you move your head the other way it’s a slider,” Martin told ESPN. “It was pretty blatant.”

    Martin took an interesting stance on the issue, though, saying he was more frustrated with himself for not catching onto it sooner than he was at the Blue Jays for doing it.

Mick Billmeyer vs. Rockies

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    Back in 2010, Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was caught using binoculars to look in at the action from the visiting bullpen at Coors Field, located in right-center field with a great view of the catcher.

    The Phillies denied any wrongdoing, claiming that he used the binoculars to evaluate the team's catcher Carlos Ruiz, but after he was caught on television the league understandably stepped in and put a stop to the use of binoculars by Billmeyer.

Cubs vs. Cardinals

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    Back in 2002, the Cubs and Cardinals had a sign-stealing controversy arise when Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan accused the team of relaying signs leading to a Sammy Sosa home run.

    Heading into their next series together, this article took a look at whether or not the controversy would continue and if there would be any retaliation.

    Always quick to be the tough guys, Cardinals starter Matt Morris said he might throw a pitch at someone's ear the next time he faced the Cubs, although that never happened.

    In the end, it was a bit of a misunderstanding as Duncan clarified that it was not specifically the Sosa incident that the Cardinals were worried about but rather the Cubs team's penchant for stealing signs as a whole. 

Chicago White Sox

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    According to an article by ESPN's Tim Kurkjian, back in the 1980s the White Sox used their scoreboard to steal signs from the opposition.

    Armed with a 25-watt refrigerator bulb and a toggle switch, a member of the White Sox organization would sit in the manager's office and watch the camera that had a view of the catcher from center field.

    Flipping the switch on meant either a fastball or breaking ball was coming, and no action from the light meant the other was coming.

    Simple, effective and incredibly shady all wrapped into one.

Royals vs. A's

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    During a late-season match-up between the Royals and A's on September 22nd, 1976, tempers boiled over in a number of ways as the two teams fought for the AL West title.

    According to this article, Royals manager Whitey Herzog accused the A's mid-game of stealing signs from the bullpen with binoculars.

    Not taking kindly to the accusations, the A's threw at Royals outfield Amos Otis, knocking him down and forcing him to leave the game on a stretcher, although x-rays would come back negative.

    The Royals eventually won the game 3-1, and went on to win the division as well so they got the last laugh.

Bob Buhl and Joey Jay vs. Chicago Cubs

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    According to this news article back on July 2, 1960, two Atlanta Braves pitchers, Bob Buhl and Joey Jay, were spotted in the center field bleachers at Wrigley Field with field glasses attempting to steal the Cubs signs.

    The duo had just pitched the previous days doubleheader, so they would not see any action in that days game, and they were stationed in the bleachers where they were signing to their teammates using white scorecards.

    A fan eventually noticed them and ran down to the Cubs bullpen to warn them. The two pitchers were chased from the bleachers and that was the end of it. Clearly a different time, as this story would have blown up in today's sports landscape and likely would have resulted in suspensions.

Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the Word

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    There may be no more infamous instance of sign-stealing, or at least accused sign-stealing, than Bobby Thomson's legendary "Shot Heard 'Round the Word" that clinched the NL pennant for the Giants on October 3, 1951.

    Thomson's walk-off blast to send the Giants to the World Series is regarded as one of the greatest moments in baseball history, and while there is no changing its significance in the game's history, there is some suspicion surrounding it.

    Wall Street Journal writer Joshua Prager wrote a book on the home run entitled Echoing Green: The Untold Story of Bobby Thomson, Ralph Branca and the Shot Heard Round the World.

    In the book, he reported that Giants position coach Herman Franks was using a telescope from the Giants clubhouse during a number of late-season games, including that one to relay the catcher's signs. A buzzer was set up to alert someone in the Giants bullpen of the pitch call, and he would in turn relay it to the batter.

    Whether or not this sign-stealing played into Thomson hitting his legendary home run is a moot issue at this point, and this story only adds to the mystique of one of baseball's greatest moments.