Seriously, what is up with Boston sport teams and high-tech cheating? The New England Patriots have already given the world the camera trickery of Spygate and the football manipulation of Deflategate, and now their baseball brethren have gotten in on the fun with some Apple Watch-assisted espionage.
As the New York Times reported Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox used the wearable tech as part of an effort to steal signs the opposing catcher used to tell the pitcher what kind of pitch to throw. The rival New York Yankees turned in tapes to the league office that appear to show Red Sox assistant athletic trainer Jon Jochim looking at his Apple Watch and then relaying information to players.
Exactly what app Jochim might have been using for this alleged cheating is unclear. In all likelihood, the scheme would have relied on a messenger app like iMessage or Slack, but it’s also possible he was taking advantage of a team-specific subscription with the MLB At Bat app.
In 2015, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost faced questions from Major League Baseball for wearing an Apple Watch during games. Smartphones have already been banned during games, but the Apple Watch was only temporarily banned after a complaint — again, from the New York Yankees. The smart money is this ends in an official ban of the Apple Watch and other wearable tech in the dugout.
Sign-stealing is nearly as old as baseball, and it’s considered technically within the rules when a runner on second base can see the catcher’s signs and finds a way to relay that info to the batter. What’s not allowed is using anything beyond one’s own eyesight to steal signs. Everything from binoculars to video cameras are illegal for this reason, and electronic devices are banned in dugouts to prevent such cheating.
“[I’m] aware of the rule, electronic devices are not to be used in the dugout,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said in a press conference. “But beyond that all I can say is it’s a league matter at this point.” He deflected further followups, again citing the league’s ongoing investigation.
While using an Apple Watch is new, players have been using cutting-edge technology to gain an illicit edge going back to the turn of the last century.
In 1900, Philadelphia Phillies backup catcher Morgan Murphy was caught using a telegraph system to relay stolen signs to the third base coach. The book Day by Day in Cincinnati Reds History has the story.
Reds shortstop Tommy Corcoran uncovers an elaborate sign-stealing apparatus during a game against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Corcoran was coaching at third base when his spikes caught a wire in the coaches’ box. Corcoran dug the wire out of the dirt, gave it a yank, and several yards of wire came out of the ground. Corcoran kept tugging, and traced the wire across right field to the Phillies’ locker room where Morgan Murphy, a reserve catcher for Philadelphia, was sitting with a telegraph instrument beside an open window.
It was then learned that Murphy spied on opposing catchers and relayed their signals, via the wire, to the Philadelphia third base coach. A buzzer had been placed under the dirt, and by keeping his foot on it, the third base coach received signals which indicated whether the next pitcher would be a fastball, curve, or change of pace. This information was relayed to the batter.
The Red Sox have already lodged a counter-protest against the Yankees, arguing the Bronx Bombers use a camera supposedly from the YES Network, their proprietary TV station, to steal signs. If Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Red Sox’s alleged cheating is anything like the NFL’s probes into Spygate and Deflategate, expect this all to be resolved sometime in mid-2021.