In lieu of actual baseball, I’ll be posting snippets that were cut from The Baseball Codes as a way of amusing myself and, hopefully, you. The theme this week: Sign stealing from beyond stadium boundaries, pre-Astros era.
The Astros scandal is only the latest (and, of course, most egregious) among a long history of stealing signs from beyond ballpark walls. Let’s look first at the New York Highlanders, who in 1913 would adopt the name “Yankees.”
In 1905 the Highlanders rigged a hat-store advertisement on their outfield wall so that the crossbar in the “H” could be manipulated in accordance with the upcoming pitch.
In 1909, Highlanders manager George Stallings rented an apartment behind the right-field fence of the team’s Hilltop Park, from which he had someone relay signs by flashing a mirror at the batter. Though the scheme worked well when the sun was shining, it was useless on cloudy days, so Stallings placed a man behind the outfield fence, where he spied through a gap in a whiskey advertisement and manipulated a nearby slat (the crossbar in the “H” of a “Higlanders” sign) to signal pitches.
Using this system, New York (which finished the season 74-77) beat the powerhouse Philadelphia Athletics three out of four games in early September to virtually hand the pennant to Detroit, with the Tigers needing only to win a series of their own against the Highlanders in New York two weeks later to wrap things up.
Detroit manager Hughie Jennings, having heard of the Highlanders’ system, took steps to insure that his ballclub would not fall victim to similar tactics: He and some “friends” showed up to the ballpark early and tore down the scoreboard in which the New York spy had been hiding.