The ambiguous world of “Baseball Gamesmanship”


Over the past few games, the Yankees have been fairly vocal with their feelings regarding Toronto’s alleged stealing/relaying of signs. After being outscored 23-8 through the first two games of the series, Joe Girardi commented, “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.” The skipper elaborated, “I’m not accusing anyone. I just said we need to protect our signs. You have to take pride in it, and you have to be smarter than other clubs when you do things, and you have to change things up.”

For what it’s worth, my guess is that the losses endured over the first two games of the series had more to do with the shoddy defensive play and grossly underwhelming pitching than anything else. Perhaps not so coincidentally, CC Sabathia didn’t appear overly affected by any stolen signs as he pitched eight strong innings of one run ball during the third game of the set, which ultimately resulted in a 4-1 Yankees win. The same could probably be said for Phil Hughes and his six inning, two earned run effort today.

Of course, if the Blues Jays were actually using some outside form of monitoring (binoculars, electronic equipment, etc.), than that absolutely would be a problem as that type of action blatantly contradicts the written rules of the game. In the same vein, if the Yankees seriously believed this to be the case — which would constitute a fairly substantial charge against the Jays — I’d suspect MLB would probably be asked to step in. Interestingly enough, the Yankees are not the first team to make this particular type of complaint either.

Assuming no official rules were actually violated though, this situation at the very least, qualifies as one of the many ambiguous circumstances of the game that are not necessarily illegal, but still incensing to some nevertheless. It wasn’t shocking to anyone when Martin commented, “They’re lucky that that’s my mindset, of me wanting to change [the signals] because it’s my fault. But some other teams, guys can get drilled for that. I’ve seen it happen.”

It would appear that popular consensus suggests that if a base runner is clever enough to figure out a pitch sequence, signal the dugout, and focus on base running, more power to him. To me, it speaks more towards overall poor pitch selection or general predictability on behalf of the pitcher and catcher. I completely agree with Russell Martin’s conclusion, “The reason why you put multiple signs down is so they’re not able to relay, and that type of stuff. There’s a reason why you just use one when there’s nobody on, and multiple when there’s people on.”

However, it’s certainly understandable how rationalization of this type of “gamesmanship” treads a fine line. Depending on your stance, other similar aspects of the game become a little trickier to condone or condemn. When does “crafty gamesmanship” become unsportsmanlike shenanigans? Also, do you find your feelings change when the discussion shifts to other topics such framing pitches, sliding especially hard into second, pretending to be hit with a ball during an at bat, or distracting an infielder while running the bases?  I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.

Categories : Musings


  1. Honestly, if your players are stealing signs, that’s fine. We did that shit like it was going out of style (or at least tried to) in Legion and high school ball. If your signs are being stolen, change ‘em up.

  2. BigTimeBartolo says:

    What’s the deal if there’s a runner on 1st with less than 2 outs, and the batter hits an infield pop-up. The batter assumes it’s going to be caught and walks towards the dugout, but the fielder purposely lets it drop to start a double play?

  3. Ryan says:

    This post’s direction made little sense to me. It was implied that the Blue Jays were violating the rules. The “Gamesmanship” aspect of it wasn’t questioned. Girardi has always seemed okay with anything that falls under the “gamesmanship” umbrella. The point here is that the Yankees had reason to believe the Jays were stealing signs via methods that are against the rules.

    You can’t compare this situation to Jeter’s HBP, or A-Rod’s “Ha!” They are completely different situations. If A-Rod would have used a high-powered flashlight to distract the fielder, then the two situations would have been comparable.

    • Ryan says:

      …although, admittedly, the “Ha” is borderline. Still not comparable though.

    • Matt Warden says:

      Apologies Ryan, if the post’s direction was confusing. The point that I was trying to convey was that unless there were hidden cameras monitoring the batters, stealing signs in and of itself is really just another element of the game. Some are in favor of this, and some aren’t.

      What it always comes down to though (at least in my eyes), is that players will do whatever they can in order to achieve a competitive advantage. And that process often leads to scrutiny depending on who’s coming out on top.

      • Ryan says:

        No need to apologize, it was well written, I just couldn’t find the direction. I completely agree with you though.

        I feel that this isn’t a case of gaining a competitive edge through accepted practices. From what I can tell, it seems all implications were that the Jays are cheating via hidden camera/binoculars/etc. If that is the case, then this isn’t something that should just be shrugged off by the team or the league.

        Obviously, I know nothing more of the circumstance than what the media knows, or has told. I have no source with the team, or connection better than RAB. I’m just a baseball purist, and the thought of its possibility angers me.

  4. breich315 says:

    We had an interesting situation in my amateur league recently. Our batter called time rather loudly just before the pitcher started his delivery (runners on base). Umpire did not grant time but he stepped out. Pitcher stopped his delivery after starting and did not release the pitch. Obvious balk. Not obvious to the umpire at first. Our manager had to go out and argue twice and actually they changed the call. Their players were pissed but it was the right call — always deliver the pitch so that a) you don’t hurt yourself and b) you don’t balk. One player tried to compare our catcher to a D-lineman calling out signals. LOL

  5. Q: When does “crafty gamesmanship” become unsportsmanlike shenanigans?

    A: When the Yankees do it.

  6. E says:

    In terms of unwritten rules, this isn’t like bunting with a no hitter or stealing when up by 6 runs. Stealing signs is a way of gaining an advantage in games where the margin of victory is slim (i.e., not an issue when CC’s winning, but more so in a close game/playoff game. Because it happens at crucial times, emotional stakes are raised

  7. E says:

    In terms of unwritten rules, this isn’t like bunting with a no hitter or stealing when up by 6 runs. Stealing signs is a way of gaining an advantage in games where the margin of victory is slim (i.e., not an issue when CC’s winning, but more so in a close game/playoff game. Because it happens at crucial times, emotional stakes are raised.

  8. hornblower says:

    There is no difference of opinion here and it is not worth a column. Every one knows the the limits of sign stealing.

  9. bgeary says:

    Sign stealing, so long as it’s done by the players themselves (on the field only, is an at your own risk kind of thing. If you’re okay with getting drilled in the back with a pitch, more power to you.

    If sign stealing was such a taboo thing to do, no one would bother using sequences in the first place.

  10. Neil says:

    Just sounds very whiny when your pitching sucks for two games and the opposition is suddenly “stealing signs” because your players and coaches can’t figure out how to not give away signs. To paraphrase Farrell we’re 20-21 at home. If we’re stilling signs we’re not doing a very good job.

    • Rainbow Connection says:


    • Oscar Gamble's Fro says:

      What signs do you figure the Blue Jays were flashing when CC was pitching?

    • Andrew says:

      Garcia and Colon have been very good for the entire season. So to say they suck, well, is frankly just wrong. On top of that, pitchers get hit around all the time. Colon has had a couple rough starts in the past month, and Garcia has had several this year as well. But never, in any of those starts, have the Yankees accused anyone of stealing signs. So, why now, in this bad start, did it become time for the ‘oh, they were stealing signs’ excuse? Maybe, just maybe, considering the multitude of accusations levied against the Blue Jays, they actually are stealing signs.

      • Oscar Gamble's Fro says:

        June 16, 2011.

        “When [their pitcher] is leaving pitches over the plate, and they’re getting hit, they’re just trying to make excuses. Those things happen,” Andruw Jones said after Torrealba of the Rangers accused him of stealing signs.

        “He said something to me two nights ago,” Teixeira said. “But there’s really no reason to get into it because I didn’t have anything. Guys get paranoid. I told him I really don’t know what you’re talking about and that was it.”

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