Even as the Phillies were denying efforts to steal signs against the Colorado Rockies on Monday, people started to dig back a bit to look at their history with the subject.
They didn’t have to dig far.
Just last October, rumors of Philadelphia’s extra-curricular sign stealing swirled during the World Series, when, during Game 4 of the World Series, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada visited pitcher CC Sabathia six times in the first inning, then eight more times in the fifth. This didn’t do much to improve the quality of the product for those watching at home, but it might have been enough to thwart would-be sign thieves.
During the game, Posada also went into dexterous sign gymnastics with nobody on base, throwing down complex sequences normally utilized to stymie a runner on second.
Those rumors hit a head when Dodgers coach Larry Bowa went on ESPN950 radio in Philadelphia, and said this:
There’s rumors going around that when you play the Phillies, there’s a camera somewhere or bullpen people are giving signs, and catchers are constantly changing signs. That’s the rumor. Now is it [proved]? No. I’ve had three people come up to me, ‘Watch center field, they’ve got a camera. Some guys stand up by the fence and if their arms are up it’s a breaking ball.’ I didn’t see it, but other teams swear by it.
So I’m sure the Yankees personnel said, ‘Heads up, these guys like to give signs from second, they’ve got people in center field. So they were constantly changing signs. Posada was paranoid about it. CC was paranoid about it so they kept going out. They might have changed signs four times on one hitter. That’s the reason he went out. It wasn’t to say to him, ‘Settle down.’ It was, ‘Go to this sign.’
Bowa, a Philadelphia icon for his years with the team during his playing days, had no direct inside knowledge of the system (that he admitted to, anyway), but his speculation was enough to send Shane Victorino into a tizzy.
“I guess he knows something that I don’t know about, obviously,” Victorino said shortly after Bowa’s comments aired. “We play between the lines, and that’s what it’s about. For Bowa to come out and say something like that, if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, if he doesn’t have cold, hard facts, he shouldn’t say something like that. It’s just not something that should be said. For you to pop off like that, I’m not happy.”
Victorino, of course, has been fingered as complicit in the most recent allegations against his team, largely because he was seen on the dugout telephone in conjunction with Mick Billmeyer’s spyglass proclivities from the Philadelphia bullpen.
Last October, Victorino backed up his statement by pointing to the fact that Philadelphia lost the first two of the first three Series games, saying, “Obviously if we’re stealing signs we would be doing better than what we’re doing right now.”
Well, okay. Except that sign stealing doesn’t guarantee victory, especially against a team as good as the Yankees; it merely massages the odds. One of the most notorious sign-stealing-from-beyond-the-outfield-wall teams of the 1960s was the Chicago Cubs—and look where it got them.
Another statement that didn’t hold much water came yesterday, when Phillies manager Charlie Manuel opted to go on the offensive and accuse the Mets of vague improprieties.
“Somebody maybe ought to check the Mets if they did that,” he told the New York Daily News, possibly in retaliation for the Mets leveling similar accusations against the Phillies in 2007. “Their (—-ing) home record is out of this world (14-8), and they’re losing on the road (4-8). Sometimes that’s a good indicator of getting signs and (crap). I’m not accusing them, but you look at that and—damn. We’re about the same home and road. I’m just saying their record is much better at home and they hit better.”
It’s nice that the Phillies are equally dominant at home (10-6) and on the road (10-7), but it must be pointed out that the recent controversy came on the road. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to pull that off, no matter what the Phillies’ actual intentions might have been.
Between Colorado, last year’s World Series and the 2007 Mets, it might be time for the Phillies to give it a rest.
You know, just in case they’re doing anything improper.