Stealing signs: Fact or fiction

Did the man in white attend Robbie Alomar's number retirement ceremony a couple of weeks ago? You'd...

Did the man in white attend Robbie Alomar's number retirement ceremony a couple of weeks ago? You'd have to have pretty good eyes to see him from home plate. (Michael Peake/QMI Agency)

Bob Elliott, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:54 PM ET

Visiting teams worried about sign stealing at old Comiskey Park in Chicago.

Legend was that the clock on the exploding scoreboard was the key for hitters.

Fans would look at the board, see the digital clock, read 7:25 and know what time it was.

Chicago White Sox hitters looked at the clock, read 7:25 and knew a fastball had been called by the opposing catcher.

And if White Sox hitters looked at the clock, saw 7.25 and knew an off speed pitch had been called.

That was the difference.

A colon or a period.

Fastball or offspeed pitch.

There was also the story about a 25-watt refrigerator bulb flashing on the giant Comiskey board in the 1980s, after someone saw the catcher’s signs on TV inside the clubhouse.

Where will the Rogers Centre sign-stealing accusations be years from now or a month from today?

Fact, legend or a good story?

In the 1940s, hitters at Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium would sneak a peak at the hand-operated scoreboard where there was always a giant hole indicating the inning being played. The operator would watch the game, then post either a zero of the number of runs scored.

If the man watching dangled his arm his arm out the opening, a hitter could expect an offspeed pitch.

Turned out the plan had been created by Hall of Fame right-hander Bob Feller, according to Baseball Digest. World War II vet Feller used a telescopic sight from the USS Alabama to obtain signs and then relay them.

The ESPN story quoted visiting relievers noticing a man in a white shirt raising his hand over his head each time the pitcher threw an offspeed pitch in April of 2010.

“If they’re relaying signs from the outfield seats, it’s totally illegal,” said former Jays manager Jim Fregosi from Seattle. Fregosi is now an executive with the Atlanta Braves, after playing 18 years and managing 11 seasons.

“But in today’s game I don’t think that’s going on, even with the sophistication of technology. I don’t think anyone would be crazy, that’s dishonest. It’s ridiculous to think a guy could call signs from the outfield.”

One former Jays manager and an ex-player sent virtually the same text:

“What’s it like covering a bunch of dirty cheaters (: (:”

One afternoon hours before batting practice at Olympic Stadium in the 1980s, two visiting coaches, one upset, one calm, demanded me to tell them “RIGHT NOW!” why there was a third camera in centre.

One was for the visiting TV, one for CBC French TV, the third for CBC English.

“No way they need two cameras for the same country, even if it is different languages, why can’t they share?” asked the coach.

As I started to explain the inner workings of the CBC, one fumed “the Expos are cheating, that’s why there are three camera.”

“Whoever is complaining should look in the mirror,” Fregosi said. “Whenever we had suspicions, we’d change our signs, sometimes every inning.”

While relaying signs from the outfield or scoreboard is considered cheating by players, scouts and executives we spoke to on Thursday, stealing signs from the other dugout, second base or first is the same as stealing bases.

Another fair game, in-game theft is noticing the pitcher tipping pitches, like raising the index finger sticking out of the back of his glove — only on curves.

“That’s why a lot of gloves with holes in the back, now have a patch sewn over them,” he said.

We recall broadcaster Tom Paciorek telling Jack Morris “one night in Seattle, Jack, we had every one of your pitches.”

Morris said “remember it well ... complete-game shutout, think it was nine strikeouts.”

One player said his team was so worried about sign stealing the starter called the game: Tug at the jersey was a curve, the cap was a change, neither meant fastball.

And in other news, Vernon Wells, a Jay for 12 seasons, returns to the Rogers Centre in a Los Angeles Angels uniform for the first time Friday.

 


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