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Tony Clark gets contract extension, to lead the union through at least 2022

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Tony Clark took over as Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association since 2013. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that he just got a contract extension that will keep him in the post through at least 2022. That puts him in the position beyond the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement which expires on December 1, 2021.

Having certainty and security in the role is important for everyone involved at this point. As noted, we are three years out from the expiration of the current CBA and, based on general dissatisfaction by many players and agents with it, there will be a lot of work to do in the very short term to get the large and dispersed union membership all on the same page and ready to bargain for a better one. The union simply cannot be in the business of messing with its leadership structure in 2019 and 2020. It’d be a waste of valuable time.

That said, it was Clark who was responsible for the negotiation of the current bad CBA and there are many around the game who speculated that his job could be in jeopardy as a result. Based on the MLBPA board voting to extend Clark, those doing the speculating and those in charge of his job security are apparently a different group of people.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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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.