“Sign stealing” is a part of baseball whether fans like it or not. For the St. Louis Cardinals, is this act demonized or accepted?
Currently, it is a trend in MLB to demonize the teams or players who have been accused of stealing the signals of rival teams. This is not a novelty except for the punishments recently applied by Commissioner Rob Manfred, as we could well say that “signal theft” or “sign stealing” has existed since baseball was born. Let me put forth an example of a Perfect Game of 12 innings that was pitched by former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Harvey Haddix on May 26, 1959.
Let’s first see who Harvey Haddix was. Haddix was a left-handed pitcher born in Medway, OH who at the age of 26 and 337 days debuted in the MLB with St. Louis Cardinals in a game held on August 20, 1952, in which he emerged victorious 9-2 over the Braves (then in Boston) after having pitched eight innings allowing two runs, five hits, three strikeouts, and four walks.
Haddix, who had the nickname “The Kitten” for his great resemblance to St. Louis’s left-handed pitcher Harry “The Cat” Brecheen with whom he met at the AAA Columbus Affiliate in the twilight of his brilliant career, pitched for three full seasons with Cardinals (1953-1955) and part of the 1952 (debut) and 1956 season (in which he was traded to Philadelphia Phillies).
During his time in St. Louis, Haddix was part of a formidable pitchers rotation composed of Gerry Staley, Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, and Vic Raschi (not forgetting that at that time there were rotations of 3 or 4 pitchers).
The1955 team also had Lindy McDaniel, Larry Jackson, and Luis “Tite” Arroyo as well as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Del Rice, Solly Hemus, Rip Repulski, Ray Jablonski, Joe Cunningham, Wally Moon, Bill Virdon and Don Blasingame among others.
Haddix had a record of 52 wins and 40 losses during his time in St. Louis, with his best campaigns in 1953 (20W-9L – 6 SH -163 OS) and 1954 (18W-13L -184 SO).
Well, let’s get back to the “signal theft” thing, in May 1989 (30 years later), Bob Buhl, who, along with Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Juan Pizarro formed the Milwaukee pitcher rotation back in the 1950s, stated that Braves pitchers had been stealing signals from Pittsburgh catcher Smoky Burgess throughout the game who was catching for Haddix.
To inform their batters, Milwaukee pitchers waved a towel from their bullpen indicating the type of pitch that was coming. Although the Milwaukee Braves then had a solid offense formed by Eddie Mathews, Joe Adcock, Hank Aaron, Johnny Logan, Wes Covington, and Bill Bruton among others. Although they counted on the assistance they received from their bullpen, they failed to decipher Harvey Haddix’s pitches for 12 innings.
This leads us to reflect that even though hitters can count on information for “stolen signals” from their rivals, it does not mean that with it they will succeed. They may have been informed that they will throw a breaking ball out, but the accuracy of the pitch will depend on the control, location, and speed with which the pitcher executes it.
Yes, it’s an advantage to know what kind of pitch is coming to home plate, but also the opposing team knows what you can see and can continually change their signals, just as managers or coaches do with their batters or runners when they are on the offensive.
That’s why I started this article by saying to not demonize teams and/or players for “signal theft.” It is indeed wrong within the ethics of the game, but the problem has grown by the use of technology in all areas of the game.
Currently the Sabermetrics which focuses on assessing how individual and collective player statistics affect a baseball team’s win-loss record allows us to know all the strengths and weaknesses of pitchers and hitters, all games are filmed and allow to have a database in which they methodically analyze all players.
Today, there are fans who approve the use of this technology and many others who do not agree with its use because they change the essence of the game with which it was originally invented and developed. There will always be appreciation plays that will be dictated by a group of professional umpires that, like all human beings, can be wrong.
Many changes have impacted baseball with the use of sabermetrics, which has even changed the measurement and use of indicators to determine player performances. Previously, batting average and slugging were very important in determining the productivity of a batter. Currently, there are players with batting .250 who receive more than $20M per season.
Jeff Luhnow, A. J. Finch, Alex Cora, and Carlos Beltran were fired by their teams (Carlos Beltran resigned) and received other punishments as well. However, it has seemed excessive to me. I assumed that a hefty fine would’ve been enough. I knew Beltran and Luhnow personally during their time in St. Louis, and I know they’re honest people who didn’t deserve punishment of that nature.
Carlos Beltran’s situation is very complicated because after smearing him with this punishment, it could affect his entry into the Hall of Fame even though his achievements during his career with Royals, Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals, and New York Yankees are enough to deserve it
It has been, in my view, so unfair to punish these people without applying the same criteria for Mike Fiers and other players who were not named and who should also have been convicted for their complicity.
Are the demands made by LA Dodgers and NY Yankees right?
Claims made by LA Dodgers and NY Yankees that they were affected by “signal theft” in the results during their participation in the Playoffs are also unfair and incongruous when there is also a huge suspicion that they in some other way did so as well. They don’t get to claim that if they were also stealing signs.
It is a case in which all teams are guilty because there is not a single MLB team that does not use sabermetrics and video to analyze their rivals. With this, I do not believe that this “signal theft” issue can be ended with the punishments that were imposed as there will always be advances in technology that allow them to take advantage of the rivals.
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Hopefully and the St. Louis Cardinals Organization does not use it in that sense and it is oriented towards a path in which the original essences of a sport as beautiful as baseball are not changed.