Phillies warned by MLB to stop stealing signs

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Tracy Ringolsby reports that Major League Baseball has issued a warning to the Phillies over allegations that they have been stealing signs.

The latest: during Monday night’s game against the Rockies, bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was seen using binoculars to look in at Rockies catchers. Meanwhile, Shane Victorino was seen in the dugout on the bullpen phone. You don’t have to be Josh Beckett’s wife to figure out what was going on.

There’s nothing in the rule book about sign stealing. There is, however, what amounts to an executive order on the matter. Back in 2001, then-Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Sandy Alderson sent out a memo to all teams that restricted the use of
electronic equipment during a game. Such equipment and technology, Alderson wrote, “could
not be used for communications or for the purpose of stealing signs or
conveying information designed to give a club an advantage.”

Binoculars aren’t electronic equipment. I suppose the bullpen phone could technically be considered that, though I’m guessing that’s not what Alderson had in mind. He was probably thinking about teams having laptops and cameras and Dick Tracy wrist-radios and light-signals a la the 1951 Giants and stuff.  What the Phillies are doing is a bit more low-tech than all of that.

But there is something that seems like a transgression here. Yes, we’re deep into the murky world of the unwritten rules again, but do you not agree that it’s one thing for, say, Chase Utley to pick up a sign while leading off second base and flash it to Jayson Werth, but something different for the bullpen coach to be doing it via binoculars and telephone?

The former seems like competition. The latter seems, well, rather unseemly.  And that’s the case if, for no other reason, than because Utley can get a ball thrown at his ribs if his subterfuge is discovered where the bullpen coach can’t, and that sort of thing tends to matter when it comes to violating unwritten rules.

So shape up, Phillies. It’s bad enough that you’re getting three more home games this year than anyone else. You don’t need the advantage that comes from stealing signs too.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”