Sign stealing

Signing Off: Were the Jays’ Eyes Pryin’, or Was Cueto Battered Into Paranoia?

Cueto stares

They say that a poor workman blames his equipment after something goes wrong. On Tuesday, Johnny Cueto was as poor a workman as he has ever been, allowing six hits, four walks and eight earned runs over just two innings pitched. Afterward, he did the baseball equivalent of blaming his equipment.

As relayed by teammate Edinson Volquez, Cueto’s rationale for his meltdown had something to do with Toronto stealing signs, both from the basepaths and from the furthest reaches of the Rogers Centre. It’s convenient, anyway, because there’s some history there.

In 2011, the Yankees openly accused Toronto of hustling signs from beyond the outfield fence, going so far as to have their catcher flash complex, highly coded signals to the pitcher, even with the bases empty (a situation that, with no chance of a baserunner peering in, teams usually keep things simple). New York’s aggrieved catcher at the time was none other than Russell Martin, who is, of course, the current Blue Jays catcher, and who has not said anything about it of late.

About a month after that, ESPN’s Amy Nelson dropped a bombshell article in which various opposing players detailed what they suspected was a complex system to relay signs within the Rogers Centre. It hinged on a guy in a white shirt, who, from the center field bleachers, would put his arms over his head for any pitch but a fastball, tipping hitters off.

The following year, Baltimore’s Jason Hammel made similar insinuations.

Baseball’s Code, of course, stipulates that while any potential sign filching from within the field of play is acceptable (provided that a player knocks it off once he’s caught), any advantage gained from a telescopic lens beyond the outfield fence is strictly verboten. (This is also against baseball’s actual rules.) The accusations against Toronto have lain dormant for a while, although to go by Cueto, ballplayers have continued to be vigilant about the possibility when traveling north of the border. (For what it’s worth, Royals manager Ned Yost and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred both dismissed the likelihood of such shenanigans.)

Just as hitters swear the ability to discern when a pitcher has thrown at them intentionally, many pitchers claim to sense when things aren’t adding up during a given inning. “When you’re throwing a bas­tard breaking ball down and away, and that guy hasn’t been touching that pitch but all of a sudden he’s wearing you out and hanging in on that pitch and driving it to right-center, something’s wrong with the picture,” said former Red Sox pitcher Al Nipper in The Baseball Codes.

Of course, when a pitcher struggles as much as Cueto did, he’ll seek to rationalize it almost by default. It’s the paradox of the battered pitcher: If one is going well, there’s no need to call out possible sign stealing, but when one gets one’s teeth kicked in, it looks like nothing so much as a desperate hunt for excuses.

Maybe Cueto was on to something. Then again, none of the Royals were complaining of stolen signs a day later, after winning, 14-2.

5 thoughts on “Signing Off: Were the Jays’ Eyes Pryin’, or Was Cueto Battered Into Paranoia?

  1. Hey, you never know. If not for the stolen signs, the Jays might have lost 14-0.

    On a more serious note, I was always wondering what Russel Martin thought after he came over and found out whether the Jays had a complex sign-stealing system or not.

    As for Cueto, I think it was simply the fans knowing what happened with his dropping the ball against Pittsburgh’s Martin, and trying to recreate those conditons… Once you find an opponent’s weakness, you exploit it any way you can.

  2. Martin’s been asked about it, and has declined to answer … which he will likely continue to do until his term of employment with Toronto — and probably as a big leaguer — is finished (unless some bridges get seriously burned).

    1. I just read an interesting quote from Martin (the original source article is linked as my web site in this post, or at

      The day started with Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto, through his teammate Edinson Volquez, accusing the Jays of stealing signs from centre field in Game 3, the old Man-In-White legend. Even if it wasn’t a ridiculous idea, it was pretty roundly disproved on this day.

      “I mean, honestly, I would tell you,” Martin said. “We did it with the Yankees, we don’t do it here. We just f—ing hit, man. We f—ing crush. Whether it’s here, or on the road or whatever. We don’t do it. Maybe it’s because they do it, and they’re projecting.”

      Although I can take it with a grain of salt because he’s now a Blue Jay, but he appears to admit that the Yankees steal signs (or at least did when he was with them) and the Jays don’t, while also suggesting that perhaps the Royals are doing it.

  3. Players on pretty near every team steal signs, because stealing signs is okay … assuming that Martin is talking about from the basepaths.

    It’s interesting that when asked about that time with the Yankees when he said the Blue Jays were stealing signs, he answered that the Yankees were actually the ones doing the stealing. A straight answer can’t be expected given his current circumstances, but implicating his former team was an odd tack to take.

    Thanks for passing this along — great stuff.

    1. My pleasure. I believe Martin’s response was in context of the “Man in White”, the guy in the stands who supposedly signaled to Jays batters whenever an off-speed pitch was coming, so my assumption is that Martin is talking about stealing signs externally.

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