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What will MLB do to the Red Sox for stealing signs?


Yesterday all of baseball was buzzing about the news that the Red Sox had been caught stealing signs via instant replay monitoring equipment and the use of Apple watches. While that launched about 10,000 jokes at the Red Sox’ expense — and will launch more, I’m sure — the question now is what Major League Baseball can and should do about it.

At the outset, it’s worth noting that there’s nothing in the rule book about sign stealing. And, as many have noted, stealing signs is as old as baseball. There is, however, what amounts to an executive order on the matter which makes for a distinction between the age-old practice of a runner on second base flashing a sign to the batter on the one hand and an elaborate use of technology by multiple players and team employees on the other.

Specifically, 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.” On that basis, it has been assumed that baseball can discipline a team for the misuse of technology for such purposes.

But for such a clear distinction, it’s not as if this situation has popped up very often. Back in 2010 Phillies bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer was seen using binoculars to look in at Rockies catchers while Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino was seen in the dugout on the bullpen phone at the same time, which was presumably a sign-stealing relay. The Phillies received a warning from Major League Baseball for that. The following year the Blue Jays were accused of a sign-stealing operation which allegedly involved a mysterious “Man in White” sitting in the stands, but that’s never resulted in anything concrete and no discipline followed. Mostly, sign-stealing cases end with initial accusations which are almost always based on suspicion coming from frustrated players after a game and little more. We’ve chronicled a number of them over the years in this space. Discipline has never followed.

Here, however, the Sox seem to have been caught red-handed and are owning up to it, more or less, so something has to happen. As someone suggested to me on Twitter yesterday, it should probably be more than the mere warning the Phillies got back in 2010 because the Sox used the replay system, which should be seen as a more serious transgression than having someone schlep binoculars to the bullpen. It’s taking advantage of in-game mechanisms and stuff. It just seems worse.

All that said, I suspect that whatever happens to the Sox will be far less than what some people have been talking about online in the past 16 hours or so. No, Major League Baseball is not going to force the Red Sox to vacate wins. No they’re not going to take draft picks from them. There likewise won’t be some eye-for-an-eye kind of thing where the Sox, having used the replay system, will be prevented from making replay challenges. I saw someone suggest that and all I could think was that baseball never goes, well, biblical with its discipline, so it’s not worth talking about.

I suspect that there will be some sort of short suspension, possibly for John Farrell on a “the buck should stop with you” basis, even though he claims to not have known anything about it (sure, John). I could also see a suspension for any players found to have participated in the scheme (Dustin Pedroia, Brock Holt and Chris Young were named in the New York Times story).

Ultimately, I suspect this will end up looking like the fallout after an on-field fight or a ball-doctoring incident. Even if the parties involved — the Yankees and Red Sox — and the coverage all of this is getting is making it seem bigger than that.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 5, Brewers 3: An absolute dagger of a loss for the Brewers. Chicago took a 2-0 lead early and Milwaukee fought back to take a 3-2 lead in the eighth. In the ninth Ian Happ reached on a grounder on which he should have been out — no error was called, Jeremy Jeffress just couldn’t get to the bag in time — and then Javier Baez tied things up singling Happ in with two outs. In the 10th, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer on a high fastball that probably didn’t do everything Oliver Drake wanted it to do. Wade Davis got the final five outs of the game, in the ninth and tenth, striking out four Brewers. Chicago is now four and a half games ahead of the Brewers in the Central. Milwaukee will have to win the final three games of this series to have any shot at the division. They do remain only one back in the Wild Card, however, because Colorado keeps losing.

Dodgers 5, Phillies 4: Philly took a 4-2 lead thanks to rookie sensations Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins, but old men Curtis Granderson and Andre Ethier — still alive! who knew?! — homered in the six than seventh innings, respectively, to tie it up. The Dodgers’ own rookie sensation Cody Bellinger drove in the eventual winning run with a groundout in the seventh. With that win the Dodgers clinch at least a tie for the NL West title. They can pop champagne corks with either a win tonight or a Dbacks loss. Bad news though: Justin Turner got a bruised thumb when he was hit by a pitch from Mark Leiter Jr. in the first. X-rays were negative and he’s day-to-day, but that kind of thing can linger.

Indians 4, Angels 1: Francisco Lindor hit a three-run homer in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie and the Indians win yet again. That’s 27 of 28 now. They’re only a game behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball which, as we’ve noted recently, matters now that home field in the World Series is determined by non-stupid means.

Orioles 3, Rays 1: Gabriel Ynoa — who, apropos of nothing, has one of the more satisfying last names to both read and pronounce in all of baseball — tossed eight innings of five-hit, one-run ball. Manny Machado hit a two-run homer and Trey Mancini knocked in a run, both coming in the first innings, for all of Baltimore’s scoring. Tampa Bay threatened in the ninth. It wasn’t anywhere near as good a threat as the one Kim Jong Un issued to Trump yesterday — really, all politics aside, that thing reads fantastically — so the O’s were able to extinguish the fire.

Royals 1, Blue Jays 0: Jason Vargas and four relievers allowed two hits and no runs to beat J.A. Happ and three relievers who allowed eight hits and one run. Melky Cabrera‘s third inning RBI single was the game’s only scoring. Can you imagine what any pitcher from before, say, 1980, must think about a 1-0 game featuring a two-hit shutout that required nine pitchers?

Twins 12, Tigers 1: The Twins had been on a mini-skid before last night, but the Tigers pitching staff will always cure what ails ya. Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each and four different Twins batters knocked in two runs. The Twins now have a two and a half game lead for the second Wild Card with ten days left in the season.

Cardinals 8, Reds 5: Scott Schebler hit two homers for the Reds but it was not enough to overcome the Cards. Dexter Fowler had three hits and drove in two. He was 7-for-13 with two home runs and six RBI in the three-game series, swept by St. Louis. The Cards, who were swept by the Cubs last weekend, are still alive for the Wild Card, though, sitting a game and a half back of Colorado and a half game back of Milwaukee.

Braves 3, Nationals 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs over eight innings to pick up his 10th win on the year. After the game he said, “I’d be lying to say I didn’t have some emotions about it. This could be my last start ever at a home venue.” So there’s a decent chance he retires after the season. Part of me hopes he doesn’t — knuckleballers can and should pitch forever and he does have a team option the Braves are likely to pick up for 2018 — but he’s got kids and stuff and it’d be totally understandable if he decided he was done.

White Sox 3, Astros 1: White Sox starter Carson Fulmer lasted one third of an inning before leaving with a blister so seven relievers covered the rest of the game, allowing only one run to the best offense in baseball. Dallas Keuchel walked in one run and allowed another to score on a double play to earn the loss. Tim Anderson hit an insurance home run in the eighth.

Rangers 4, Mariners 2: Cole Hamels allowed only one run over eight innings pitched and was backed by Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo homers and a Carlos Gomez two-run double. The Mariners have been part of the Wild Card conversation for much of the season but now they’re closer to last place in the AL West (4.5 games) than they are to the second Wild Card (5 games).

Padres 3, Rockies 0: Clayton Richard, fresh off of his two-year contract extension, tamed the Rockies, shutting them out for seven and a third, scattering seven hits. Christian Villanueva homered and drove in two. The Rockies have dropped four straight and have the Brewers and Cards breathing down their necks for the second Wild Card.

Padres, Mariners join list of teams to extend netting

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The Reds announced earlier that they plan to extend the protective netting at Great American Ball Park in time for Opening Day next season. You can add the Padres and Mariners to what will surely be a growing list.

A young fan was struck in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, which gave new life to the netting debate. Some fans and media types think Major League Baseball is not doing enough to protect fans. While Major League Baseball has issued guidelines for protective netting, it is ultimately up to the teams to decide just how much netting to use.