— A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published a story with a rather shocking accusation: In 2001 with the Oakland A’s, Miguel Tejada was tipping pitches to friends on opposing teams.
Some A’s players thought that during lopsided games, Tejada was letting opponents know what pitches were coming, and failing to field balls hit near him.
The team held a meeting to address the issue, with Jason Giambi airing the players’ concerns before veteran Ron Gant calmed things down.
No evidence ever came to light, and Tejada has been steadfast in denying he has ever done such a thing. But as the story comes in the same season Alex Rodriguez was accused of the same crime, it seems like a good time to address the issue.
STEALING SIGNS A PART OF BASEBALL
Stealing signs has been going on in baseball for a long time. It’s always been part of the game. When I was a player, I was on a couple of teams where it went on.
If a base runner got to second base, he would try to read the signs the catcher flashed to the pitcher, then relay them to the hitter. That’s not unusual and it still goes on. Why wouldn’t you do it if you’re going to help your team?
You also see bench coaches trying to steal signs from the opposing third base coach or even from the other dugout.
Joe Nossek, a longtime coach for the Chicago White Sox who came up as a player with the Twins, was legendary in his ability to steal signs. He was considered one of the best at reading patterns and picking up the indicator sign.
There’s not really a rule about it, but I don’t consider stealing signs to be a big sin. You’re not out there to make friends and I never had problems with my hitters doing that when I was pitching. Maybe it would help get me five or six runs of support.
But on the other hand, when you’re pitching you have to do your best to stop the other team from doing it. I remember the old Brewers teams with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor were good at stealing signs.
There was a game I was pitching against them, and Ted Simmons was on second base. I don’t know what it was, but I sensed something was going on, and Simmons was relaying my signs to the hitter. So I turned around and confronted him at second base, told him “someone is going to get hurt.” He denied it of course, but it was well known at that time that the Brewers were good at it.
The White Sox were known for stealing signs as well. There was an old story that someone was flashing a light on the Old Comiskey Park scoreboard to indicate when the pitcher was throwing a fastball. I remember pitching there and we knew about the stories, so we changed our sign indicator every inning, and sometimes my catcher would come out to the mound and we’d change it between pitches. I had a headache after that game, but somehow I didn’t cross up my catcher one time, and we won a tight, low-scoring game.
In addition to stealing signs, another thing you do during games is closely watch the opposing pitcher to see if he is unintentionally tipping his own pitches. Maybe he raises his index finger when he’s going to throw a breaking ball, and leaves it flat against his glove when he’s throwing a fastball. If you watch closely you can pick up little things like that.
If I ever noticed a pattern like that, I would tell the hitting coach. Since he regularly talks to all the hitters during the game, he could pass on the information without drawing attention. Then once I told the hitting coach, we would both continue to watch the pitcher for awhile to make certain it’s 100 percent sure before telling the hitters.
After all, you don’t want your hitters leaning out over the plate looking for a curveball, then get drilled by a fastball. You have to be careful.
As a pitcher, you could sometimes figure out that the other team had spotted something you were doing. I could tell if they saw me good or were doing something different. In that situation, you just try to make an adjustment quickly and hope you’re still out there before you get hammered.
CROSSING THE LINE
Stealing signs, or noticing when a pitcher is unintentionally tipping his pitches is not cheating, that’s just baseball. You try to get an advantage over your opponent any way you can.
But what Tejada was accused of is far different. He was accused of giving his opponent an advantage, and that’s a cardinal sin in baseball.
When I saw the story, I called a buddy of mine who played on the A’s at that time. He told me that there definitely was a concern about Tejada at the time, but doesn’t know for sure that anything happened.
He also told me a story about playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and about the culture there. Many young players live in poverty in the Dominican Republic. It’s a completely different way of living, and in an effort to find a way to the big leagues, I wouldn’t be surprised if friends helped each other out in that way. Sometimes their friendships might override the team concept because they are pulling for each other, in a way.
It is possible something like that could happen in the majors. That being said, I played 22 seasons in the big leagues and I honestly never heard of anyone doing it, whether Dominican players or players of any nationality. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.
I hope Tejada has never relayed signs to friends or countrymen on opposing teams. I hope if anything, he did it accidentally.
It’s like a catcher with a runner at second base. The catcher can’t move too quickly inside or outside or he’ll give away the location of the pitch. Something similar could have happened with Tejada.
Perhaps when he saw that a breaking ball was coming, he would take a step to his right to cover the hole. If a fastball was coming, maybe he took a step toward the middle. The other team could’ve picked up on that and adjusted accordingly.
I hope that’s what happened. But I know one thing: If I was on the mound and found out a teammate was giving signs to the hitters I was facing, there would have been a fight right then and there, and I would want that player off my team. And it wouldn’t matter if the score was 2-0 or 15-0, it would simply be unacceptable.