Toronto Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos walked into an interview room for his first Brian Burke moment, saw 20-odd reporters and cameras instead of the usual ink-stained pack and remarked: “This whole thing is stupid. It’s unbelievable that we’re sitting here and talking about this.”
Jays slugger Jose Bautista said it was “sad, funny and ridiculous all at the same time,” and then fingered the Chicago White Sox as the anonymous sources for an ESPN magazine article entitled Signs of Trouble, which uses anonymous sources and mathematics from your mother’s basement to suggest the Blue Jays hitters’ impressive power numbers at the Rogers Centre have been abetted in recent years in a manner that stretches the boundaries of logistics more than belief: Guy No. 1 sees the catcher’s sign, relays it to Guy No. 2 in white sitting near centre field, who in turn raises his arms over his heads for anything other than a fastball so that a batter 450 to 500 feet away. Okay ...
Bautista identified the Chicago bullpen as being the protagonists in a verbal exchange with him early in 2010 that is relayed in the article and forms the basis of the story. It is interesting to note White Sox starter John Danks and Bautista had a shouting match this season when Bautista slammed his bat on the ground after flying out.
The Blue Jays, by the way, are 14-3 against the White Sox at the Rogers Centre since the start of the 2007 season.
Make no mistake, this article is an outgrowth of the continued fascination with Bautista’s power surge. Without him, the Blue Jays are just a fourth-place team.
“I didn’t get that take on it,” Bautista said, balancing on a fence in front of the Blue Jays dugout after batting practice. “But, I don’t get insulted by much. If anything, the last year – about the steroids – was probably something I could have been insulted about, but I wasn’t.
“But I am intrigued,” Bautista added, “to see what they come up with next.”
Major League Baseball prohibits the use of electronic devices in the dugout or bullpen areas. Beyond that, how far a team or players want to push the area around the game’s unwritten rules is pretty much self-governing. Like scuffing or loading up a ball, guilt is established only when detected.
Sign stealing and giving away pitch location is old hat. Blue Jays broadcaster Alan Ashby tells a story about how base runners with the Cincinnati Reds’ fabled Big Red Machine would tap the top of their helmet when standing on second base. It was an offer to the hitter: do you want the sign? A return tap of the batter’s helmet meant yes. Former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston and protégés Roberto Alomar and Carlos Delgado are legendary for their ability to pick up opposing teams’ signs or identity pitch calls.
Earlier this season, Yankees catcher Russell Martin said he thought Blue Jays base runners were tipping pitch location to Blue Jays hitters. Good, they’d better be doing it. But Yankees manager Joe Girardi went a little further and suggested something else was afoot – just as former Boston Red Sox pitching coach and manager Joe Kerrigan will go to his grave believing there is a centre-field camera in Toronto and a monitor near the Blue Jays dugout.
Criticisms of the journalistic mechanics of the story or debates about whether it’s fair are irrelevant. It isn’t the first bit of conjecture and rumour given legs by mathematics, nor will it be the last. The guess here is Anthopoulos has never seemed as vexed as he was Wednesday because of Girardi’s role: accidental or not, identified uniformed personnel tend to give a story credibility.
When Blue Jays manager John Farrell was asked whether as a former Boston pitching coach he thought there was something nefarious going on at the Rogers Centre or with the Blue Jays, he responded: “Outside the norm of [pitch] location being relayed from second base or something that I would venture to say every team to a certain extent does?”
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