It was a big deal when the MLBPA went after the Florida Marlins a few months ago, essentially accusing them of pocketing revenue sharing money and not investing enough to improve the team anywhere apart from the bottom line. It was a serious enough criticism that even Major League Baseball agreed and the league, the union and the Marlins entered into an agreement pursuant to which the Marlins will raise their payroll over the next few years.
When that all went down fingers pointed at the other low-payroll, revenue sharing-receiving teams, and people wondered when they would be similarly pursued. Speculation immediately focused on the Pirates, who have cut payroll substantially in recent years despite moving into a nice new ballpark.
But you can forget about going after the Pirates. Union head Michael Weiner likes what they’re doing just fine:
“Are we happy with the current state of the Pirates’ payroll? Of
course we’d like to see it higher. Is it tough to see when they sign a player
like Nate McLouth and then trade him? Is it tough to see some of the
other things they’ve done? Sure. But, to date, we have been convinced
the Pirates have a plan.
“You guys have as beautiful a ballpark as there is in
the major leagues. You’ve got a phenomenal fan base and history.
(Ownership has) a plan in place, so we’ll continue to monitor it. We’ve
been satisfied so far.”
Those comments were made to students at at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law. Inherent in those comments, I think, is an acknowledgment that the Pirates are at a very different place on the success cycle than are the Marlins. Indeed, the shortest path between losing and winning for the Pirates is through lower payroll and giving young kids a chance as opposed to paying for more older veterans who won’t be around the next time the team has a chance to win. Compare this with the Marlins who have, for the past couple of years anyway, been a player or two away from being serious playoff contenders.
The union is often accused of being interested in nothing other than high salaries. And to be fair, getting high salaries for its members is part of its mission. But there’s some reality and pragmatism afoot in today’s MLBPA, and this is some evidence of it.
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.