Since the Houston Astros are the talk of baseball with the alleged sign stealing schemes, I thought it might be fun to look back at 2011 and the “man in white”.
Sign stealing has been a part of baseball for longer than anyone reading this has been alive, and that’s not going to change any time soon. However, technology has certainly changed the way that teams can go about gaining an advantage on their opponents, which makes for a pretty significant debate around what’s right and wrong.
MLB made sure that teams understood that the use of electronic devices would not be allowed, and they’ve made plenty of steps to limit the ways that teams can steal signs over the last few years. The discussion is at an all-time high right now because of the revelation about the Houston Astros’ sign stealing system, which was exposed this week in an article by the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, and also notable Twitter user, @jomboy_.
It remains to be seen how the MLB office will handle this particular instance, but it’s a familiar topic for Rob Manfred and his staff because of examples like the Astros, the Boston Red Sox, and several other teams who have been accused of “cheating” in recent years. If we go back to the 2011 campaign, the Blue Jays are another recent example of a team that has been accused of going the extra mile, although it was never proven.
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How many of you remember the infamous, “man in white”?
Back in 2011, the Blue Jays were the focus of the discussion around sign stealing thanks to a report from ESPN about a ‘man in white’ sitting in the outfield bleachers. To quickly sum up the story, some members of the opposing bullpen noticed that this individual would raise his arms above his head whenever an off-speed pitch was about to be thrown, but would sit motionless whenever a fastball was on the way. Although they didn’t know how he knew what pitch was coming (they suspected the info was being relayed to him), the four unnamed members of the opposing bullpen noticed that his accuracy in calling pitches was nearly perfect, and his routine was consistent.
The report indicates that they verbally confronted Jose Bautista from the bullpen , who was the right fielder and a key member of the Blue Jays at the time, and not long afterward the ‘man in white’ moved away from his seat.
These same players even went as far as testing their theory in an empty stadium before the next game:
"The next day, the players who had seen the man in white headed to the field early. One stood in the batter’s box while another stood on the mound. From the batter’s box, it was clear the man in white had been perfectly positioned just above the pitcher’s head so that the batter would not need to move his own head, or even alter his gaze, in order to see his signal. “It’s premeditated,” said one of the AL players, “as if the guy was a sniper trying to find the best position to make a shot.”"
The Blue Jays denied all accusations and more or less laughed off the suggestion about an elaborate scheme to steal signs, and a formal investigation was never opened against them.
By no means am I suggesting that my beloved Blue Jays were cheating back then, but I’m also not naive either. As much as I’d like to think that the Houston Astros are the only team looking for an unfair competitive advantage, I’m nearly certain that’s not the case. Whether it’s through the use of performance enhancing drugs, pine tar on bats, foreign agents on pitcher’s hats, or something else, there aren’t a lot of teams out there (probably none) with a spotless record. As one former high school teammate of mine once said, “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”.
Does that mean it’s okay to cheat? Of course not. I’m glad to see the investigation that’s happening against the Astros right now, and I hope they’re harshly punished. I’m all for players trying to pick up on tells from an opposing pitcher, or a baserunner trying to get some information from second base. But going the extra mile with technology is pretty gross, and I hope the MLB office can set an example with the Astros that will scare others off from doing the same for a while.
But don’t kid yourselves, the Astros aren’t the only team that has done something like this. Did the Blue Jays have similar scheme with the ‘man in white’ in 2011? Honestly, I doubt it, especially because of the technological advancements of the last eight years that would make it even easier (that’s not to suggest that it couldn’t have been done then either though), but I’m more than willing to admit it’s possible.