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There was a really weird play in the White Sox-Blue Jays game

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The White Sox beat the Blue Jays last night thanks to a late Jose Abreu home run. Earlier, though, in the top of the fifth, a super weird play went down that, while not greatly affecting the outcome, was pretty much the play of the game. At least for conversation purposes.

With the score tied 1-1, Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez loaded the bases with one out. Yoan Moncada of the White Sox hit a ball to the wall in left field. Curtis Granderson leapt to catch it. The ball bounced off his glove and flew into the air. Granderson landed on the ground on his back and the ball landed on his chest. He grabbed it before it hit the ground. Umpire Jordan Baker, running toward Granderson as the play developed, called it an out.

White Sox catcher Wellington Castillo had been on third base. He broke for home when he saw the ball bounce, but did not see Granderson ultimately catch it. Before he could cross home plate, he realized what happened and scurried back to third base to beat the relay throw trying to double him off. If the play had ended there, it’d be a big screwup by Castillo, who could have and should have waited for the play to fully develop, given that Granderson was so far away from the plate that even if Castillo had waited a second or two to tag up and run.

Except the play didn’t end there. Well, the active part of it did. The RE-play, however, then began. It dragged on a long time, but ultimately the replay officials determined that the ball had hit the wall before Granderson’s juggling act began, meaning that it was a live ball. Since the play had been stopped by umpire Baker, replay officials had to use their judgment to place the runners. They gave Moncada a hit and awarded Castillo home. All of which seems about right. Can’t really fault Baker either, because in real time that sure looked like a catch.

Anyway, if you can stomach seven minutes worth of replay delays, there’s the highlight. Everything that matters happens in the first minute or so though:

An Astros executive asked scouts to use cameras, binoculars to steal signs in 2017

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The Athletic reports that an Astros executive asked scouts to spy on opponents’ dugouts in August of 2017, suggesting in an email that they use cameras or binoculars to do so.

The email, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports, came from Kevin Goldstein, who is currently a special assistant for player personnel but who at the time was the director of pro scouting. In it he wrote:

“One thing in specific we are looking for is picking up signs coming out of the dugout. What we are looking for is how much we can see, how we would log things, if we need cameras/binoculars, etc. So go to game, see what you can (or can’t) do and report back your findings.”

The email came during the same month that the Red Sox were found to have illegally used an Apple Watch to steal signs from the Yankees. The Red Sox were fined as a result, and it led to a clarification from Major League Baseball that sign stealing via electronic or technological means was prohibited. Early in 2019 Major League Baseball further emphasized this rule and stated that teams would receive heavy penalties, including loss of draft picks and/or bonus pool money if they were found to be in violation.

It’s an interesting question whether Goldstein’s request to scouts would fall under the same category as the Apple Watch stuff or other technology-based sign-stealing schemes. On the one hand, the email certainly asked scouts to use cameras and binoculars to get a look at opposing signs. On the other hand, it does not appear that it was part of a sign-relaying scheme or that it was to be used in real time. Rather, it seems aimed at information gathering for later use. The Athletic suggests that using eyes or binoculars would be considered acceptable in 2017 but that cameras would not be. The Athletic spoke to scouts and other front office people who all think that asking scouts to use a camera would “be over the line” or would constitute “cheating.”

Of course, given how vague, until very recently Major League Baseball’s rules have been about this — it’s long been governed by the so-called “unwritten rules” and convention, only recently becoming a matter of official sanction — it’s not at all clear how the league might consider it. It’s certainly part and parcel of an overarching sign-stealing culture in baseball which we are learning has moved far, far past players simply looking on from second base to try to steal signs, which has always been considered a simple matter of gamesmanship. Now, it appears, it is organizationally-driven, with baseball operations, scouting and audio-visual people being involved. The view on all of this has changed given how sophisticated and wide-ranging an operation modern sign-stealing appears to be. Major League Baseball was particularly concerned, at the time the Red Sox were punished for the Apple Watch stuff, that it involved management and front office personnel.

Regardless of how that all fits together, Goldstein’s email generated considerable angst among Astros scouts, many of whom, The Athletic and ESPN report, commented in real time via email and the Astros scout’s Slack channel, that they considered it to be an unreasonable request that would risk their reputations as scouts. Some voiced concern to management. Today that email has new life, emerging as it does in the wake of last week’s revelations about the Astros’ sign-stealing schemes.

This is quickly becoming the biggest story of the offseason.