Sign stealing

Girardi to O’s: You Can’t Hide Your Spying Eyes

ShowalterWhether Orioles third base coach Bobby Dickerson was signaling pitch location to his team’s hitters is almost beside the point. The Yankees thought he was doing it, and that’s enough.

The dispute emerged at the end of the first inning of Monday’s game, when Buck Showalter raced from his dugout to yell at Joe Girardi for giving Dickerson a hard time from the Yankees dugout. According to Dickerson, the abuse started with Baltimore’s first hitter of the game, Nick Markakis (who hit a ground-rule double).

” ‘I know what you’re doing,’ ” Girardi yelled, according to Dickerson.

This means that if Dickerson was doing something suspicious, it probably wasn’t the first time. The only way the Yankees could be on something like that so quickly is if they were already aware of it and paying particularly close attention from the game’s first pitch.

“Yelling it, body language, pointing at me,” Dickerson said in an MLB.com report. “That’s it. And I’m a grown man, that’s all. I don’t see why he was yelling at me. I just said, ‘You don’t know anything. You don’t even know me to be yelling at me.’ ”

Showalter should be commended for taking up for his guy—which he did in the most visible way possible, with sufficient animation that the benches cleared (watch it here)—but Girardi is the one on solid footing here.

If Dickerson was indicating location (Yankees catcher Austin Romine insisted that he had the signs themselves well protected), he was fulfilling a longstanding duty of base coaches throughout the history of the game. Not all of them do it, of course, but it’s expected—and accepted—that a certain number will.

Coaches may bend at the waist to indicate one type of pitch, and stand upright for another. When Leo Durocher was coaching third while managing the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1940s, he’d whistle to the hitter to indicate he knew the pitch. (Not only would he take it from the catcher, but he’d also peer in to the pitcher’s grip for clues.) Giants right-hander Ace Adams made a point once of showing him a curveball grip, which Durocher dutifully relayed. Adams, however, threw a fastball right at the batter. That, he said, stopped the whistling in a hurry.

In the early 2000s, the Cardinals were convinced that Cubs first-base coach Sandy Alomar was signaling pitches to Sammy Sosa. St. Louis coach Jose Oquendo handled the situation via a face-to-face confrontation with Alomar, during which he urged (at top volume) the cessation of such activity. That said, Oquendo himself carries a reputation as an accomplished sign thief. In an interview for The Baseball Codes, he admitted to stealing signs “every day” from the first-base coach’s box, but insisted that he used the information only to inform strategy for his team’s baserunners, never passing it along to hitters.

All told, such efforts to tamp down this kind of activity are entirely expected. Which is precisely what Girardi did. As a manager, it’s his job to call out such intransigence as soon as he’s aware of it, at which point it becomes incumbent of the offender to knock off whatever it was he had been doing.

Had Showalter played by the unwritten rules and remained in his dugout while making sure Dickerson laid low for a while, the outcome would have been no different—we’d just have heard nothing about it.

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Managers Play their Best Lineups

Joe Girardi Mostly Ignores Roster Games; Yankees Still Kick Red Sox in the Teeth

Mark Teixeira started -- and homered (twice) -- before everything fell apart for New York.

Prior to Wednesday’s game against Tampa Bay, Yankees manager Joe Girardi found himself in a terrifically sweet position. The Yankees had little to play for; they would finish with the American League’s best record regardless of the outcome.

A loss, however, would give the Rays a leg up on the American League wild card. More pertinently, it would provide a possible knockout shot to the Red Sox—and what Yankee wouldn’t enjoy that?

With so much on the line for his opponent, however, Girardi was, under the auspices of baseball’s unwritten rules, obligated to utilize his best players. So the question became, Would it be okay if he didn’t?

The answer: Of course. Winning, or putting your team in a position to win, trumps nearly every facet of the Code. It’s safe to assume that Girardi—a Yankees catcher for four years before taking over as manager in 2008—takes joy in any opportunity to stick it to Boston. On Wednesday, he could do so under cover of getting his own team ready for the postseason. The skipper had a playoff series to prepare for, and resting his players may well be vital to that preparation.

In fact, Girardi did exactly that against the Rays on Sept. 22, resting Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner in a game New York would lose, 15-8.

But with the season on the line for Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Girardi started what’s essentially been his regular lineup, and stuck with it until rain delayed the game in the seventh.

With New York holding a 7-0 lead, the skipper went to his bench: Eric Chavez replaced Mark Teixeira in the lineup, and took over at third base. Brandon Laird moved from third to first. Chris Dickerson took over for Nick Swisher in right field. Heck, A.J. BurnettA.J. Burnett!—saw action in the seventh.

That strategy, of course, is covered by its own set of unwritten rules. With the game comfortably in hand, Girardi could have been accused of running up the score had he continued to play aggressively. Such a full utilization of his role players was definitely not that.

As it was, of course, we all realized exactly how far behind us the days in which a 4-0 lead was considered safe actually are. Tampa Bay tied the game with six in the eighth and one in the ninth, and won it—and the wild card—on Evan Longoria’s 12th-inning homer.

Boston fans might bemoan Girardi for his late-game lineup manipulations, but their manager didn’t. “They can do whatever they want,” said Terry Francona in a MassLive.com article published Monday. “They have played themselves into that position; they’ve earned the luxury. I have never had a problem with that.”

* * *

The piece of Code mandating that managers utilize their best lineups when playing contenders late in the season really comes into play when an also-ran rests its regulars against a club with playoff hopes—”to get a look at the kids,” or some such. Few issues will be taken should the occasional prospect be utilized for evaluation purposes, but generally speaking the rule is firm: Play the rookies against Pittsburgh; sit ’em against St. Louis.

Take 2004, for example. Going into the season’s final series, the Giants and Houston were tied for the wild card lead with 89-70 records. The Astros closed with three home games against Colorado, while the Giants visited Los Angeles.

Suffice it to say that members of the San Francisco clubhouse took note when Rockies manager Clint Hurdle trotted out a series-opening lineup featuring six rookies—Aaron Miles, Clint Barmes, Garrett Atkins, Jorge Piedra, Brad Hawpe and JD Closser.

The Giants managed to take two of three from the Dodgers, but it wasn’t enough; the Astros swept punchless Colorado.

“All we needed was for Houston to lose one game,” said then-Giants reliever Matt Herges. “We were watching that, yelling, ‘This is a joke.’ We couldn’t stand Clint Hurdle after that.”

“If we’re in that position, it means we stunk all year,” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson. “Well, let’s stink a little more if we have to, but we’re going to give them the best shot we’ve got.”

That, however, is not a universal view. For the flip side of the argument, we turn to Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

“Goddammit, if I’m that far out of the pennant race, the players I was playing weren’t worth a shit, anyway,” he said. “You might as well take a chance and look at some new players for next year.”

Which brings us back to Joe Girardi, who doesn’t have to worry about any of that. His players don’t stink, he could have gotten away with virtually anything he wanted in this regard during yesterday’s game and, as a bonus, he helped kill Boston’s season.

Not bad for a day’s work.

– Jason

Sign stealing

Sign-gate at the Rogers Centre, Day II: Are the Blue Jays Going Above and Beyond?

Well, things have officially gotten interesting. A day after Yankees catcher Russell Martin accused the Blue Jays of stealing New York’s signs, New York manager Joe Girardi injected some seriousness into the charge.

During the course of the Yankees’ 7-1 loss to Toronto, Girardi had Martin display complex sign sequences for pitcher Freddy Garcia even with the bases empty—a time during which catchers ordinarily utilize only the most basic signals. The only possible reason for this: the prospect that the Jays employ a comprehensive system for sign stealing, likely from somewhere beyond the field of play.

When questioned about it, Girardi didn’t hold much back.

“Sometimes we have inclinations that certain things might be happening in certain ballparks and we are aware of it and we try to protect our signs,” Girardi said in an ESPN.com report.

In response to a question about whether that could mean using foreign devices such as binoculars or even TV cameras, Girardi said, “Could be,” and added that “there are ballparks where you need to protect your signs.” The manager softened his stance somewhat by pointing out that he was “not accusing anyone” of impropriety.

Not directly, anyway.

Blue Jays manager John Farrell, of course, denied everything. “I have no idea what that might be referring to,” he said. “Honestly, why that would even come out, I don’t know. We play this game to compete every day and we don’t look to any other means than what takes place between the lines.”

Accusing a team of stealing signs from the basepaths is mild, usually serving merely as a preventative method against it happening again. When entire ballparks—and binoculars and relay systems and everything else associated with pilfering signs from beyond the field of play—are brought under scrutiny, things become significantly more charged. Rare is the player who won’t forgive a basepath sign stealer; even rarer is the manager willing to forgive an institutional breach of confidence such as the one to which Girardi alluded.

As referenced yesterday, this is hardly new territory, with the Phillies standing accused of similar tactics last season. They had a solid base on which to build; the Yankees themselves served as some of the first practitioners of off-field espionage. In 1905, back when they were still known as the Highlanders, the team rigged a hat-store advertisement on their outfield wall so that the crossbar in the letter “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. (On cloudy days, a similar crossbar continued to come in handy—this time in a “Highlanders” sign.) When Detroit went to New York for a must-win series at the end of that season, Tigers manager Hughie Jennings—having heard the rumors and willing to take no chances—showed up to the ballpark early and, with some help from his team, tore down the scoreboard in which the New York spy—the guy relaying the signals—had been hiding.

A more modern implementation came courtesy of Billy Martin, during Game 1 of the 1976 World Series. A commotion was raised in the middle innings when three New York scouts were found in the ABC-TV booth, gathered around a television set and speaking into walkie-talkies. Cincinnati had previously granted permission for the scouts to assist with defensive alignments from on high, but watching them in action raised Red flags and they were removed from the premises.

Going public with his own complaints is a decent gambit for Girardi. Save for annoying Farrell and other members of the Blue Jays, there’s little downside to thinly veiled accusations—but by bringing the subject to the media, Girardi has insured vigilance not just from their own dugout, but from the public at large. Had the Blue Jays been stealing signs with a TV camera or some other such device, they’d be hard-pressed to continue the practice, at least in the short term.

The primary question with which we’re left: If Girardi feels that “certain things might be happening in certain ballparks,” where else might they be happening, and who else knows about it?

Which is all the Yankees really want.

– Jason

Related: Break Out the Binocs—There’s Thieving to be Done

Josh Rupe, Retaliation, Russell Martin

Martin Drilled; Yankees Cry Retaliation, O’s Say, ‘Who, Me?’

Russell Martin during his sweet spot—after his second homer and before he was drilled.

The plunking of Russell Martin on Saturday, April 23, by Baltimore pitcher Josh Rupe was enough to fire up the usually stoic Joe Girardi, who was seen pumping his fist in the dugout in response to Brett Gardner’s revenge homer a batter later.

Why so impassioned? Martin was drilled high between the shoulder blades, just below his head, after hitting two home runs in what would end up a 15-3 laugher for the Yankees.

“What happened last night, it’s ugly, it’s unfortunate,” said Girardi in the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

O’s skipper Buck Showalter agreed, though he stuck by his pitcher’s claim of innocent intent. Of course he did. That’s his job.

More interestingly, when asked how he might respond should the Yankees retaliate, he told the Baltimore Sun, “We’ll deal with it. It’s self-inflicted.”

That’s a big statement from a manager—a tacit admission to the opposing club that, should they handle their business appropriately, they will have an uncontested free shot available to them the next time the teams meet.

Rupe issued the requisite denial in which he insisted he was attempting nothing more than to pitch inside. Then he took it a step further.

“I know how it looked, and for me and a lot of these guys on this team, I pitch in,” he said in an MLB.com report. “That’s what I do when I’m coming out of the ‘pen. I’ve already given up a home run, and yeah, I was really [ticked] off. But I’m not going to resort to possibly hurting a guy and end his career or anything like that. There’s no reason for me to do that.”

There might even be some truth to the sentiment. Rupe came in with the bases loaded in the eighth, and promptly gave up a grand slam to Alex Rodriguez. He later hit Martin with two outs in the ninth. Any fastball fueled by frustration is bound to get wild, regardless of its intended target. This doesn’t excuse the pitch, of course, or get the Orioles off the hook. And it certainly didn’t change the Yankees’ collective opinion.

Martin, on Rupe’s intent: “Yes—there’s no doubt about it. I want to stay in the lineup, so I’m not going to do anything stupid, but I wouldn’t recommend him doing that again.”

Girardi: “It was right at his head.”

Mark Teixeira: “That’s a heck of a coincidence if it wasn’t intentional. . . . There’s no place for it.”

Teixeira’s opinion holds extra merit, as he went in spikes high against Baltimore infielder Robert Andino in the seventh inning. Andino immediately got up and had words for the baserunner.

It was not Teixeira who was targeted, however, despite coming to bat the following inning with the Yankees ahead, 9-3. (He walked, loading the bases.)

In the series finale the following day, no batters from either team were hit. Perhaps the Yankees’ blowout victory the previous day allowed them to move on. More likely, the combination of a close score on Sunday (the game was tied, 3-3, going into the 11th inning) and proximity to the initial incident was enough to put Girardi off … for the time being.

Still, he made sure to say, “I think it’s important that your players have each others’ backs during a long season. As a team, you have to take care of each other.”

The Yankees visit Baltimore on May 18.

– Jason