As White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle headed to the mound for the sixth inning against Baltimore Wednesday, he had more than just pitching on his mind.
Perhaps it’s that he’d given up two runs to the Orioles in the previous frame. Maybe it was because outfielder Felix Pie was 5-for-7 with a walk to that point over the series’ two games, and Buehrle was fed up.
Or maybe he doesn’t like players stealing his team’s signs.
The Baltimore Sun reported that Buehrle started yelling at Pie (and, by proximity, it appears, Corey Patterson, as well) as he was heading back to the dugout—an exchange that several Orioles players confirmed had to do with the stealing of signs, and the ramifications therein.
How Pie was stealing them was more difficult to discern. He had walked in the fifth, then scored on Matt Wieters’ double, but was never stationed at second base to get a good look at the catcher or the pitcher’s grip on the ball. (While it’s possible to steal signs from first base, it happens far less frequently. Pie could conceivably have been signaling location from there based on the catcher’s setup.)
Prior to that moment, Pie had been all over the basepaths for Baltimore, but the only time he he had been stationed at second, Wieters followed with an inning-ending fly ball.)
Sign stealing from the field of play is an inextricable part of baseball, and occurs with both frequency and consistency throughout the season. The unwritten rules do nothing to prevent somebody from trying to gain this particular edge.
“Stealing signs is part of the game—that’s not the problem,” said Dusty Baker. “The problem is, if you get caught, quit. That’s the deal. If you get caught you have to stop.”
In Buehrle’s case, he or his teammates had clearly seen something amiss, and he took it upon himself to inform the opposition that it was time to put a stop to whatever it was they were doing. It was likely a repeat offense that spurred him to act.
Pie was lucky that it was Buehrle’s barbs that stung him, not his fastball.
“I’d just go up to them and say, ‘Come on, now, you’ve got to be a little bit more discreet—it’s too obvious,’ ” said shortstop Shawon Dunston, discussing his own methods of operation during his playing career. “They just give you a dumb look, but the next time the behavior changes. You’ve got to get every edge and I don’t have a problem with that, but don’t be too obvious. And be prepared to get drilled if you get caught. Period. That’s how it is.”
Jack Morris once took things a step further. Rather than waiting until an inning ended to deliver his message, he simply spun on his heel and, taking steps toward second, informed the started runner that he did not appreciate what was going on.
Then he said, “I’m throwing a fastball and it’s going at him. Make sure you tell him that.”
After doing precisely that, knocking the hitter down, Morris made a second trip toward the runner. “Did you tell him?” he yelled. “Did you?”