Baseball has a particular appreciation for stealing bases or taking advantage when a pitcher tips their pitches. However, digitally assisted sign-stealing using replay technology is where it draws the line since Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred sent out a memo on this matter in September of 2017.
The MLB just finished an in-depth three-month investigation where the Houston Astros in 2017 and 2018 allegedly used their replay monitors to analyze an opponent’s sign sequencing; that investigation led to general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch each being suspended without pay for the 2020 season (after which they were dismissed by the Astros), and the Astros’ forfeiture of their first- and second-round picks in the 2020 and 2021 MLB Drafts. Current rules forbid players and coaches from using electronic means now available on replay monitors to decode signs during the game. Manfred will announce the findings regarding the Houston case in January of 2020.
MLB is not saying what it is, but something in the Astros investigation prompted Manfred to authorize this new investigation against the Red Sox. Manfred announced this investigation after notifying Red Sox owner John Henry. “We’re going to investigate the Red Sox allegations with the same thoroughness and vigor that we did Houston,” Manfred told Sports Illustrated recently.
The previous investigation into the Astros included interviews with 60 people. The MLB also required Astros employees to turn over their phones to access 70,000 emails and text messages.
Replay technology again at the heart of the matter
The Red Sox have been warned for using an Apple watch to relay signs from the replay monitor to the dugout September 2017 (which prompted Manfred’s memo) and got another more specific warning in March 2018. The Astros similarly used a replay monitor connected to a centerfield camera to determine pitch selection.
In cases of both teams, it appears that replay personnel would notify players in the dugout if there were off-speed pitches. The dugout would then bang a trashcan to let the batter know. Moreover, players on second base could also use the recognition of signs to help the batter. This would explain the Red Sox’s league-leading .872 OPS with runners in scoring position in 2018 on their way to winning the World Series. However, it should be noted that additional security and officials would prevent this same kind of operation in the playoffs.