In The Baseball Codes, longtime Tigers catcher Bill Freehan had some advice for players looking to respond to a perceived indignity with overt action.
“You don’t want to light a guy up,” he said. “Just let a sleeping dog lie.”
At age 49, Jamie Moyer should by now have learned this commonsense maxim, which is espoused in every big league clubhouse.
Saturday night, however, he went out and, in Freehan’s terminology, lit a guy up—and it cost him. In the fifth inning of a game Moyer’s Rockies led 6-2 against Atlanta, he thought that Chipper Jones, at second base, was relaying signs to the hitter, Brian McCann. What spurred his suspicion is unclear, but Moyer responded by turning around and tellilng the Atlanta superstar to knock it off. (Watch it here.)
Jones did not receive it well.
“He accused me of relaying a sign down 6-2 with a 3-0 count to Brian McCann,” he said after the game, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, referencing the fact that McCann would likely taking the next pitch, no matter what it was, thus nullifying the need to tip him off. “I have never relayed a sign to anyone while I’m on second base.”
That’s certainly possible—some players abhor the practice, for a variety of reasons—but Jones’ tenor makes it sound as if sign relaying is something done primarily by lowlifes and scoundrels. In fact, it’s so common that most pitchers won’t even retaliate should they see it happening—they’ll just have the catcher change the signs. In slightly more extreme circumstances, they’ll ask the baserunner to knock it off. (It’s not even the first time the issue has been raised this season.)
Moyer opted for the latter tack, telling Jones, “I see what you’re doing.” Unfortunately for the pitcher, circumstances do not seem to corroborate his suspicion. Jones said he was having a conversation with Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki at the time—a claim that Tulowitzki confirmed, adding that Jones “wasn’t doing anything”—and was befuddled by the accusation. Actually, he was outraged. The third baseman went to some length after the game to explain precisely how neither he nor anybody on his team does anything like that—with enough specifics to make it very believable.
“I literally am standing on second base and I’m talking to [Tulowitzki], and I turn around and [Moyer] is coming set,” he said in the AJC. “So I get ready and take my lead, and [Moyer] goes, ‘I see you.’ And I go, what the [bleep] do you see? What the [bleep] are you talking about?’ I go, ‘I was [bleeping] talking to your shortstop. And he said something else with his back turned, like he yelled but didn’t face me. I go, that’s [bleeping] B.S. And I turned around to Tulo and Tulo’s like [holds hands up].”
Jones also said that the only sign stealers during his time with the Braves were Jeff Blauser and Mark Lemke—both of whom last played with the club in 1997—and that since then, “nobody’s ever done it.”
Moyer compounded matters in the bottom half of the inning, when he came to bat and informed Atlanta catcher McCann that things like sign stealing are “how people get hurt.” Jones took notice, as did several other members of the Braves. They responded in the most painful way possible: at the plate.
Colorado’s lead had extended to 8-3 by the time Moyer spoke to McCann. Atlanta’s first two hitters the following inning, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward, then hit long home runs, followed by a single from Tyler Pastornicky. That ended Moyer’s night.
Three batters later, Jones singled off reliever Esmil Rogers to drive in two (Pastornicky’s run was charged to Moyer), and two batters after that the game was tied. Atlanta went on to win, 13-9.
“That was all on Jamie Moyer,” Jones said. “He woke a sleeping giant tonight. . . . I don’t know why he’s so paranoid. But to be honest with you, every pitch he throws is 78 [mph]. So it’s not like we really have to relay signs.”
Moyer declined to comment after the game beyond saying in the Denver Post that “whatever happens on the field stays on the field.” Unfortunately for him, that’s not the case—and the facts don’t appear to support him.
“Jamie’s been known to be a little paranoid before,” said Diaz. It’s just one of those things where it made absolutely no sense in the situation.”
(Diaz also said that he’s been trying to get the Braves to relay more signs—like, any signs—from second base, because it was practiced on the other three teams for which he’s played, but has gotten no traction. “Chip’s the reason we don’t,” he said. “He’ll say, ‘No, we don’t do that.’ So it’s funny that he got called out on it. Ironic even.”
Ultimately, Moyer’s response would have been entirely appropriate had Jones actually been stealing signs. But like the mugger who tries to roll a plainclothes policeman, it appears that in Jones, Moyer simply picked the wrong target. The facts don’t suggest that signs were being stolen, and the vehemence of the accused lends credence to his claims.
What Moyer saw to raise his hackles, we still don’t know, but it helped spur an outburst of offense against him. Next time, he should probably be certain.