We get up in arms about testosterone and HGH — substances our bodies naturally produce and which have few serious side effects or long-lasting consequences — because they’re on a banned list. Meanwhile there’s a drug that a lot of athletes take under the direction and supervision of their teams which can kill people and is banned in several countries: the anti-inflammatory Toradol.
Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston has a story about its use in baseball. The hook: an interview with Jonathan Papelbon who took it routinely when he was with the Red Sox but who was told by the Phillies that he can no longer take it as they do not allow it. Edes looks into the controversial drug, notes its serious side effects, which can include internal bleeding (Clay Buchholz believes it’s what led to him contracting esophagitis which landed him in the ICU) and notes that it’s banned in several countries, for athletes and normal folks alike.
Papelbon’s description of its use in Major League Baseball is pretty familiar-sounding: it’s taken before the game to help guys “get through a 162 game season.” It’s, by definition, a performance enhancing drug. It’s letting guys do things they otherwise couldn’t do. Allowing their bodies to recover faster which allows them to train harder and compete at a more intense level than they otherwise could. Except it’s not on a banned list so no one cares despite the fact that it has the potential to kill you.
There is a tremendous disconnect between the drugs people think are awful in sports and the drugs that truly have the potential to be harmful. This is maybe the best example. Might be nice if we thought about our priorities about these things once in a while.
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.