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Opinion: Time to Ban Tech from MLB Clubhouses

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USA TODAY

 

You walk into any baseball clubhouse, and there's a whole bunch of rich guys who want the latest and greatest things.

It doesn't matter if it's an electronic keypad to control every possible appliance in the house, a yacht that can cruise the world, a sports car that can hit 200mph, the latest in fashion or the finest in espionage.

When you have money and that burning competitiveness, you'll do anything to have the finest things in life, whether it's to make your neighbor jealous, your friends envious or put your peers to shame.

This is why we had the steroid era in baseball.

It's why we had the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative and Biogenesis scandals.

It's why we had hidden cameras in bullpens and dugouts, strange air conditioning timing in domes, bugs in visiting manager's offices and coaches hired simply to steal signs.

Now, we have Applegate, as if the good folks following in Steve Jobs' disruptive footsteps needed more help enriching their executives.

It turns out, according to a Major League Baseball investigation, that the Boston Red Sox were using an Apple Watch and cellphones on their bench to execute a scheme to steal signs from opposing catchers that ran far afoul of baseball's rules — unwritten or otherwise.

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman filed a detailed complaint with the commissioner's office two weeks ago, according to The New York Times, of a video that showed the Red Sox assistant trainer relaying messages to players to help inform them of which pitch would be thrown next.

The scheme involved at least four Red Sox players, a baseball official confirmed to USA TODAY Sports, who received information from their video replay personnel, who passed on the pitch location to the hitter. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

It's a simple case of sign stealing.

The 2.017 version.

MLB was the one who wanted instant replay. It permitted iPads to be used by managers in the game. And we love our scoreboards to have the fanciest technology and real-time statistics.

Well, something sure has gone wrong.

We saw the St.Louis Cardinals hack into the Houston Astros' database a couple of years ago, and their scouting director was not only fired but sent to prison.

Now this.

Certainly, no one is going to jail over this.

Perhaps no one will even be fired, and Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated in a Tuesday news conference at Fenway Park (he just happened to be in town) that it's unlikely the Red Sox would vacate any wins.

Let's be honest: There's a greater chance that the Yankees will fly the Red Sox's World Series banners at Yankee Stadium before the Red Sox have to vacate a single victory. This isn't the NCAA.

There likely will be fines. Perhaps even the loss of a draft pick. But nothing more, considering MLB never concluded that GM David Dombrowski, manager John Farrell or anyone else in management knew of the elaborate scheme.

Simply, the Red Sox got caught.

It has been going on forever in baseball, whether it was Bobby Thomson using a stolen sign to help him hit a home run that won the 1951 pennant, accusations of sign stealing from the Cleveland Indians bullpen during their glory days in the 1990s or the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies' alleged use of binoculars.

Well, with today's technology, what did we expect?

MLB has no choice but to step up its act.

It's standard in the postseason for MLB officials to sweep dugouts, clubhouses and managerial offices for surveillance devices.

It's past time to do that during regular-season games, too, just to make sure there are no "home-field advantages" that go well beyond the notion of fair play.

Oh, and those iPads the managers are using? They have to go.

No more watches, either, only old-fashioned stopwatches.

And even though it's already illegal, it's time to start cracking down on cellphones in the dugout or even in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse.

Baseball has a choice: Thoroughly embrace new technology — and create a digital version of the Wild West as games unfold — or take a step back in the name of fair play.

It's only natural for teams to be paranoid, not quite sure what that camera is doing in that dugout or why there's a strange object buried underneath the visiting clubhouse couch.

And that paranoia can often run head-on into another item atop MLB's agenda: pace of play.

Tune into a Red Sox-Yankees game, and you'll likely see Gary Sanchez play a starring role. Not for hitting a ball over the Green Monster or into the Yankee Stadium bleachers, but for jogging out to the mound, catching glove over mouth.

Gotta go over those signs, one more time, in case a baserunner picks it off.

It's probably not a coincidence the Red Sox (3 hours, 20 minutes) and Yankees (3:17) play the longest games in the major leagues.

The time of game for the three Fenway Park matchups last month in which the Times reported the Yankees found the Red Sox cheating? Four hours, nine minutes --followed by 3:09 and 3:36. And were all nine-inning games.

It's time to go old school and play baseball the old-fashioned way.

We want our World Series champion to be the best team in baseball, not the one who is best at espionage or leveraging the latest device Silicon Valley rolls out.

It's a crazy time in this world.

It's no different than the ballfield, where we no longer are sure just what is authentic.

Steal signs? Sure. Just use your eyes, and not your i-s.

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September 6, 2017
 
 
 

 

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