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HOUSTON - It's completely out of control, this widespread cheating, and it's time for Major League Baseball to put a stop to it.
MLB has extensive drug testing for its players, trying to at least slow down performance-enhancing drug use. Now it must do something dramatic to curb this sign-stealing espionage by teams.
The Astros were the latest to get caught, with a team employee monitoring the Red Sox dugout with a cellphone camera from the first-base photographer's well in the first three innings of Game 1 at Fenway Park. Red Sox security, which received a tip from the Indians that this employee -- identified as Kyle McLaughlin by Yahoo Sports -- would be trying to steal signs, escorted him from the area in the third inning. McLaughlin, who listed the Astros as his employer on social media, erased it from his biography late Tuesday after Boston Metro reported the incident.
The Astros insist it was simply an employee trying to determine if the Red Sox were cheating themselves, using dugout video monitors. Yet the Indians also filed a report with MLB accusing the Astros of filming their dugout during Game 3 of the American League Division Series, according to Cleveland.com. And the Red Sox were caught cheating a year ago by using Apple watches to signal signs.
Dave Dombrowski, Red Sox president of baseball operations, said he was informed of the incident by MLB but didn't think McLaughlin directly influenced the game's outcome, won by the Astros 7-2. "It really is in Major League Baseball's hands,'' Dombrowski said outside manager Alex Cora's office. "I'm not concerned about it, though. That was taken care of very early in the game. ... It did not cost us anything."
Still, it's just the latest sign of espionage running rampant through baseball, with one Red Sox player telling USA TODAY they were warned about the Astros' antics during the season and were told to be careful with the advance scouting reports in case there are secret cameras in the clubhouse.
"I'm always concerned about (sign-stealing) throughout the season," Cora said. "We do a good job changing sequences and paying attention to details. And we don't get caught up on the whole paranoia thing of the signs. ... If we feel there's something going on, we switch the signs."
MLB cleared the Astros of any illegal activity Wednesday but ordered them to stop doing their own surveillance on teams they suspect of cheating with the use of electronic equipment.
Teams are switching signs with such regularity, even with no one on base, that you're seeing more catchers getting crossed up than at any time before.
Going into Wednesday, there had been 32 wild pitches and passed balls this postseason, including seven by the Astros, which is on pace for the most in history. Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal had three passed balls.
"We ask a lot out of our catchers," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have 12, 13, sometimes 14 pitchers on a roster that can all have different signs and different sequences. That's why you see catchers go to the mound all the time in between innings when it's allowed, when a new pitcher comes in."
Catchers used to go to the mound with regularity during the postseason to make sure their signals were straight, but with the new legislation limiting teams to six mound visits, there's more confusion than ever.
"You think of all the signs everybody's going through, especially when a guy gets on second base," Astros veteran starter Justin Verlander said. "I mean the game comes to a halt when that happens because of all the technology. ...
"How often do you see a pitcher ready to go, batter ready to go, catcher ready to go, but we're still getting signals from the manager in the dugout whether it's pickoff or throw over or pitch out or whatever sign could possibly be coming. You've got to give a sign every single time. And probably 95 percent of those are nothing, deke signs."
It's time to put a stop to it.
MLB should not have to employ nine people to monitor the AL Championship Series simply to determine whether a team is cheating. Teams shouldn't have to concern themselves with cameras focused on every coach in the dugout or trying to spot team employees in the outfield stands or near the dugout.
You put a stop to it with severe punishment. You can't strip teams of scholarships like the NCAA, but you can take away their prized draft picks. You can't forfeit bowl game appearances, but you can prohibit them from participating in the free agent market.
Please, no more wrist slaps.
Make the punishment hurt.
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