Baseball: Is "Stealing" Signs Really Stealing?


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I couldn’t believe what I was hearing as the broadcasters commented on the controversy swirling around one of the teams that was playing on TV.

This was the big issue: Was one team stealing the other team’s signs?

You know what I mean by “signs. "

A third base coach may tug on his cap once or twice, dust his pant leg, walk one step forward and clap his hands, and this sequence tells his first base runner that a hit-and-run is being called for.

Or a catcher may tell his pitcher what to throw and where to throw it to exploit a hitter’s weakness, or to increase the odds that a ground ball will be hit, enabling a potential double-play to be made.

Signs have been used in baseball, probably for a hundred years, from Little League to the Majors. But there is some disagreement still, as to whether it is “cricket" for an opposing team to deliberately decode them, and then to exploit the information they have gleaned for their own competitive advantage.

For instance, a base runner at second, can easily peer into the catchers box to see what his signs are, and then note the pitches that follow. Within one long at bat, involving several thrown pitches, a runner might be able to learn exactly what each sign means, and then quickly re-send this information to his teammate, the hitter, thus giving him an instant edge.

If you know what pitch is coming, or even if you guess correctly, you can “Wait on the pitch" and time it perfectly.

Is this conduct wrongful or a form of unfair competition?

From my view, this is an absurd question. When teams employ a nonverbal language with which to communicate, and they display that language in public, they’re tacitly inviting others to eavesdrop.

They knowingly take on this risk, and smart teams are constantly changing their signs before games and even during them, especially if they believe they’re being tracked.

To label signal detection and decoding “stealing" is to introduce an unnecessary moral and ethical devil-term into the vocabulary of sports.

It needlessly detracts from the game.

Best-selling author of 12 books and more than 900 articles, Dr. Gary S. Goodman is considered “The Gold Standard"-the foremost expert in sales development, customer service, and telephone effectiveness. Top-rated as a speaker, seminar leader, and consultant, his clients extend across the globe and the organizational spectrum, from the Fortune 1000 to small businesses. He can be reached at: .


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