So people are starting to pay attention to the unwritten rules. In a September 29 game against the Tigers, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer doubled against Justin Verlander. From his vantage point at second, he then read every sign Detroit catcher Gerald Laird put down. As Mauer took his lead, he proceeded to send a series of blatant signals prior to each pitch to the hitter, Jason Kubel, about what to expect.
The TV announcers were no different than most fans in this case, so predisposed with watching the primary action on the field that they missed the subtleties. Only in the pantheon of sign tipping, Mauer wasn’t doing much that could be described as “subtle.” Perhaps as a catcher he’s used to flashing blatant signals, but that’s hardly an excuse. Were discretion in sign delivery an official statistic, the guy never would have won the MVP.
Luckily, someone other than the announcers was paying attention, and took the time to repurpose the video for instructional purposes. Such is the beauty of YouTube.
Multiple instances of the same clip have cropped up, some with notably better video quality than the one below. I chose this one, though, because the user – Rolemodel2008 – took the time to embed a series of instructions about what to look for and when, and for the most part is right on the money.
This isn’t to say that Mauer is in the wrong; this kind of stuff happens all the time in the big leagues. The only surprise is that it took Detroit so long to catch on, not to mention the team’s lack of response (short of Laird becoming trickier in his signal calling).
“Some guys stood up there relaying location, and you could just tell,” Shawon Dunston told us during the course of interviews for the book. “I’d just go up to them and say, ‘Come on, now, you’ve got to be a little bit more discreet. It’s a little bit too obvious.’ They just give you a dumb look, but the next time the behavior had changed. They respected the game. You’ve got to get every edge — 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.”
Mauer’s next at-bat came with runners at second and third and one out; a perfect opportunity for Verlander to send a warning shot to the Twins. Instead, he got him to ground out to first on a 2-0 pitch, driving in a run.
One thing’s for sure: Were Verlander to have reacted, it wouldn’t have been on orders from Jim Leyland. “I don’t order pitchers to throw at guys,” he told us. “I don’t ever talk to the pitchers about throwing or not throwing at people. I kind of let the pitcher do whatever he’s got to do. That usually gets taken care of by itself – you don’t have to order anything. I’ve never told a pitcher a guy needs to be hit. Period.”
Check out the clip and decide for yourself.