Much of America’s rich heritage is embedded in the history of New England. There was the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Rock and the midnight ride of Paul Revere. There was the Boston Tea Party and the political caucuses on the Boston Common.
So when exactly did Massachusetts become a subversive state, prone to cheating in sports?
Along with the great success of the NFL Patriots are a couple of embarrassing scandals. There was Spygate when coach Bill Belichick decided to eavesdrop on other team’s practices with videotape, a stunt that resulted in $750,000 in fines and the forfeiture of a first-round draft choice.
This episode apparently did not teach the Pats a lesson because it was followed by Deflategate when some under inflated footballs resulted in a four-game suspension for quarterback Tom Brady.
Now we have Applegate, the intriguing story of sign stealing by the Red Sox using an Apple watch. The scheme had a team operative watching television coverage of the game in a team suite and relaying information via his smart watch to the Boston bench where it was passed on to Red Sox hitters.
Only in the era of Nerd baseball with electronics measuring everything that takes place on the field could this happen. There are cameras everywhere during this era of infiltration of the game by analytics.
The Yankees blew the whistle on this scheme after the Red Sox had five hits in eight at-bats with a runner on second base in a game at Fenway Park. The Red Sox had an “Oh Yeah’’ answer, charging the Yankees with using a camera from their YES television network to do their own sign stealing.
Isn’t technology grand?
Sign stealing is perfectly legitimate in baseball, so long as the only devices being used are eyes and instinct. It is when teams start using hardware help that the game’s proprietors object.
There is a widely told tale that the 1951 New York Giants employed a World War II surplus telescope to pick off signs when they overtook the Brooklyn Dodgers 13½ game lead to force a playoff.
The Giants won that pennant on Bobby Thomson’s dramatic ninth inning home run in the last game. But if the Giants were stealing signs, why was there a third game? How come the Dodgers were able to force it with a 10-0 victory in Game Two? Did the Giants decide to skip the sign stealing that day in an attack of good sportsmanship?
Teams try to deceive one another with signs. Some teams have different signs for each player. Some teams switch signs every three batters. Some teams have fake signs to confuse opponents. It is all legal until they start getting extra help from hardware like the Apple watch that the Yankees claimed the Red Sox were using to relay information from the team suite to the dugout to the batter’s box.
It should be noted that the Yankees’ dynastic history of success – a Red Sox executive once called the franchise “the Evil Empire’’ — has led to considerable hatred in and out of baseball for this team fabled in song and story. There was, for example, the Broadway show “Damn Yankees,’’ which included a devilish character doing mean stuff involving the Bronx Bombers.
His name was Mr. Applegate.