Hey, Mr. Belichick, would you mind scooching over for a quick second there? Thanks.
Who, you might be asking, would ever want to sit next to Bill Belichick? Why, the other Boston coach caught illegally surveilling players, of course–the Boston Red Sox trainer who used illegal technology to steal the Yankees’ signs.
And for clarification, I am not talking about real signs; Hanley Ramirez isn’t running away with Yankee Stadium’s right field Casio billboard. I’m referring to the hand signals that ballplayers and coaches use to communicate on-field strategy, such as which pitches to throw, when to steal, when to swing, etc.
Earlier this week, a formal complaint was filed by Yankees GM Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees with the Commissioner’s Office accusing the Boston Red Sox of using a combination of instant replay footage and Apple Watches to steal their signs. Major League Baseball corroborated these claims shortly after, and the Red Sox have since admitted to having their instant replay guys text sign info to a trainer in the dugout via Apple Watch to be relayed to players before they stepped in the batters’ box.
Of course, the scandal here is not sign stealing, as attempting to steal opposing teams’ signs has been both legal and commonplace since practically the inception of Major League Baseball. The scandal here lies in the technologically based method the Red Sox used to steal these signs–having a runner on second base pick up a sign using his view of the catcher is fair game; relaying external instant replay footage in between swings is not.
So far, the Commissioner’s Office has not issued any formal statement or repercussions to the Red Sox. The delay is most likely a result of the fact that this situation falls in a baseball grey area–there are no clear guidelines about how far a team can go to steal another team’s signs. Technically, no outside resources are allowed in this practice; but because sign stealing is a legal practice to begin with, just how wrong the Red Sox were is up for debate.
Media reaction has been mixed, from writers joking about the incident to expressing genuine outrage. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann believes the Yankees themselves are “suckers” for allowing the Red Sox to steal their signs, while Fanrags columnist John Heyman asserted that the Red Sox should forfeit all games where they used the Apple Watch technique.
Applegate invokes the question of how baseball’s gamesmanship will evolve in the face of today’s technologically savvy world. After all, technology has already infiltrated the field; from the birth of baseball’s instant replay to computerized data dictating defensive shifts, baseball is hardly immune to technological advances. Yankees’ Didi Gregorius tweets highlights in an emoji language, for crying out loud! If that isn’t technology infiltrating baseball, I don’t know what is.
The Commissioner’s Office could go two ways with this situation: either stay silent and set a precedent that other teams can follow the Red Sox example; or punish the Red Sox, which would uphold the no-technology tradition of the sign stealing practice.
But before we all jump to the greater implications of Applegate for the future of baseball, can we all just take a second to laugh at it? Because I, for one, cannot stop laughing at the imaginary image of Belichick, Farrell and their assistant coaches sitting at Sunday dinner discussing all of the ways in which New England teams can cheat. Whatever you think about the situation, you have to admit–it’s hilarious. If you don’t agree, just watch The Ringer’s modified rendition of Sweet Caroline, which changes the words of the song to chronicles the Applegate scandal.
Perhaps, when considering punishments for the Red Sox, the Commissioner’s Office should consider just how funny–and how marketable–the situation is. They should consider that non-baseball fans find Applegate outrageous, hilarious, and everything in between. With this scandal, baseball can connect with the NFL base by referencing Belichick’s Spygate, and with the NBA base because, well, NBA fans are used to drama.
Morals be damned. The MLB should capitalize on Applegate because it can help Make Baseball Fun Again.
In drafting a statement and punishments, the Commissioner’s Office should attempt to walk the fine line between fairly punishing the Red Sox–because they definitely deserve some form of punishment–and upholding the general hilarity of the situation. The biggest mistake they could make is to treat this situation too seriously. The Commissioner’s Office would benefit from exercising a sense of humor–reprimand the Red Sox as quietly as possible and with the least amount of fanfare. Don’t turn the punishment into a saga. Give the Red Sox exactly what most people think they deserve and move on. Besides, the social suicide of having to wear an Apple Watch was already half the punishment.
Illegal or not, Applegate is the funniest thing to happen to baseball since Yogi Berra’s pizza cutting joke. Let’s not ruin the fun, okay?