Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating of ESPN The Magazine treated us with some good, old-fashioned inside-baseball scuttlebutt with a juicy story examining the claims that the Toronto Blue Jays steal signs. This isn't the first time a team has been accused of planting sign-signals in their home park, but because the Blue Jays rocked Rogers Centre with an eye-popping home-run rate last season, there's a little more heat on this story.
And as it turns out, the White Sox play a big part in it:
"Not too easy, is it?"
From the visitors bullpen at Rogers Centre in Toronto, an American League pitcher screamed at Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista as he took his position late in a game in the spring of 2010.
"It's not too [f------] easy to hit home runs when you don't know what's coming!" [...]
Some guys on that team had actually seen the same man making the same motions in 2009. But that had been in the last series of the season against Toronto, and they let it go. Now, stunned not only that the man in white was back but that he was accurately calling every pitch, a call was made to the dugout, and the coaching staff was given the following message: Start using multiple signs, even with no one on base.
When Bautista next came up to bat, he struck out. After the inning, he ran to right field, adjacent to the visitors 'pen, and the livid player issued Bautista a warning.
"We know what you're doing," he said, referring to the man in white, according to the player and two witnesses. "If you do it again, I'm going to hit you in the [f------] head."
In response to the media on Wednesday, Bautista clarified that the reliever in question was on the White Sox, and the guys Doug Padilla talked to didn't exactly deny it. But a blogger beat him to the punch, as some great police work by blogger Chris St. John at Steal of Home uncovered not just the opponent, but the particular game that fit the described circumstances: April 13, 2010.
Before today, that game was remembered as the one where Alex Rios broke up Ricky Romero's no-hitter after A.J. Pierzynski faked getting hit in the foot, giving the Sox the unlikely line score of two runs on one hit. Conversely, nothing stands out about the Blue Jays' effort at the plate -- they scored four runs on 10 hits over eight innings, but they hit no homers, and they swung and missed 17 times over 138 pitches. That's not to say that the Jays weren't stealing signs, but nothing about the results gives it away.
For instance, take the May 3 game against the Twins. Again, it's a game marked (and marred) by ineptitude at the plate, as Francisco Liriano threw a no-hitter that night. Edwin Jackson was in fine form, too, but the Twins only swung and missed four times over 107 pitches. That would be the kind of game where you might look at the recognition at the plate and suspect the opponent was on to something, whether stealing signs, recognizing that Jackson tipped his pitches, patterns in pitch-calling, etc.
But it's not just about that game, of course. The article says the Sox suspected foul play the season before, and given that Rogers Centre became one of their dreaded destinations, maybe something was in their heads. They pitched poorly more often than not in these matchups:
Blue Jays hitters ran Sox starters ragged in Toronto over this time period, owning a line of .305/.376/.521 against them at Rogers Centre. When the two teams played each other at U.S. Cellular Field, Sox starters did a much better job of keeping Toronto hitters in check (.261/.323/.389). So at least this explains their confusion and frustration.
It should be noted that the Sox have been on both sides of the frustration-based insinuations with other clubs. In 2005, Mark Buehrle answered a question about the Texas Rangers' offense with a question:
"Which team are you asking about?" Buehrle said. "The team that struggles on the road or the one that uses the light in center field? Something's strange. They don't play so good on the road, and at home everybody's Babe Ruth."
Buehrle also had words for Felix Pie last year, although it was a more traditional accusation with no third parties or outside technology used.
And in 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals accused the White Sox of stealing signs after they scored 33 runs over the first two games of an eventual sweep. Then again, Tony La Russa has a history of blaming the opposition and their stadium conditions for his team's struggles. It's part of his arsenal.
The key difference in this story is its much wider scope. It's not merely a rash reaction while licking wounds in the clubhouse, but a long-running rumor that brings together two teams -- the White Sox and Yankees -- in accusing the Blue Jays of some Canadian chicanery. That makes it slightly more legit, but not much more knowable. I'd be surprised if anything really changes, aside from the increasing frequency of cutting remarks about it.
But it's worth expounding on this now, because it will come in handy in late September, when the White Sox and Blue Jays meet at U.S. Cellular Field for the last series of the season. The two teams already shared a chippy moment when they met in Toronto back in May, so maybe they can build on this. Sure, it wouldn't be wise for the Sox to act on anything if the games have postseason implications, but if both teams are playing out the string, some meaningless games might get a little more interesting.
Bonus conspiracy theory
Does anybody think it's a just little bit funny that Jason Frasor gave up a walk-off homer on the same day his current team accused his former team of committing a baseball crime?
Whose side are you on, Jason Frasor? WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?