Remember the golden era of shortstops of the late 90s and early 2000s, when the American League was ruled by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Miguel Tejada? Good times weren’t they?
But then Nomar Garciaparra became an injury magnet, A-Rod moved to third base and Miguel Tejada leveled off. What happened to it all?
Well, in an interesting post over at Baseball Analysts, Patrick Sullivan makes a case that the golden age didn’t end. In fact, it might be at its peak.
He compares the class of 2002 to this year’s class, which includes Hanley Ramirez, Jason Bartlett and Troy Tulowitzki, among others. Jeter and Tejada appear in both groups. The numbers are quite similar, so Sullivan theorizes that markets and media hype are playing a role in the current group’s lack of publicity.
A quick glance at both lists makes it pretty easy to explain why the 2009 group gets so much less publicity. The first group was still considered part of a revolutionary time in baseball, and it didn’t hurt that they were largely either in huge baseball markets or playing for the best teams in the game. A-Rod, Nomar and Jeter were referred to as the Holy Trinity, Tejada came on later but grabbed headlines for the great Oakland A’s teams of the turn of the century. Edgar Renteria played for St. Louis at the time, a great market with a large and attentive fanbase.
So which group do you think is better? And furthermore, which group is better when you consider defense?
We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.
As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.
Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.
As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.
While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.
Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.