MLB.com has a story with a rather misleading headline today: “NL makes a statement on Interleague weekend.” Big statement: it was 22-20. They could have drawn game results out of a hat and gotten the same results. I’d ask anyone who reads significance into that record to immediately walk down to the nearest community college and sign up for an introductory statistics class before you hurt someone.
But hey, a statistically insignificant sign of league parity is better than nothing, right? Bah. As I said the other day, I find the comparison of the AL and the NL to be a dreary exercise. I must admit that this is partially because I’m an NL guy and I get tired of hearing people disparage the senior circuit. But it bothers me far more because it’s a comparison that easily leads people to unwarranted conclusions based on an ignorance of baseball history. News flash: disparities, even great disparities, are nothing new.
While the Yankees got their titles, most people agree that the NL was the superior league — some people would argue far superior league — from the 1950s through the 1970s. Indeed, one reason the Yankees got so many titles in the 50s and early 60s was because they didn’t have to face much in the way of strong competition to win the pennant in the first place, what with pushovers like the Senators, Athletics, Browns/Orioles and others hanging around.
The NL, in contrast, was much stronger top-to-bottom, with far more teams breaking through to win pennants. A lot of this had to do with the fact that the NL was much faster in integrating. A lot of it also had to do with the fact that the NL had smarter front office people than the AL (which explains the integration thing too), managers who utilized the speed game, thus diversifying offenses and owners who seemed less focused on the bottom line than on winning (key word being “seemed”).
Due to the lack of interleague play back then we can’t really quantify how much better the NL was than the AL, but it’s hard to argue that the NL wasn’t a better league during those years. Now we can quantify such a thing, and we have pretty clear evidence that the AL is superior to the NL. Rather than just let it be, however, we get people wringing their hands and using such information as the basis for crazy suggestions like radical realignment and what not.
It’s one of the rare instances where more data, rather than less, is likely to lead people astray. Let it be people.
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.