Tag Archives: sign stealing

Other sides of cheating

Got a message from a player this morning, who noted that his final major league game was a disastrous relief effort at Houston in 2017, after which he was demoted and later released.

Not just wins and losses

Having watched highlights of the game in question, the Astros teed off on a lot of miss-located pitches in a game that was already a blowout. It’s hard to do much analysis since the actual game videos from 2017 are not made available now on MLB.TV. Because of that, we can’t see the pitch sequences or hear people hitting jumping into beanbag chairs or whatever it was they were doing.

“…Got killed never got called up again. Cost me more days in the bigs, my pension, etc.” the pitcher wrote.

It struck home like never before that there is another whole side to the damage done that had nothing to do with the Los Angeles Dodgers losing the World Series — but rather a corps of vulnerable players whose professional careers were adversely affected.

The spontaneous outburst of righteous indignation that has occurred in MLB, has been a rare occurrence in Japan, where the Astros’ brand of cheating is, like backstory of “The shot heard round the world,” part of history

Japan’s conflicting attitudes

Stealing signs and transmitting them to batters used to be a cottage industry in Japan, where the old stories are told with a sense of nostalgia. These things were common in a time when NPB was relatively lawless and violence on the field and in the stands was common.

The cheating became so prolific from video and from people stationed outside the field of play who could observe the catchers’ signs when no runners were on, that pitchers and catchers resorted to using tables taped to their arms to transmit coded signals. These proved awkward and were eventually outlawed as an impediment to speedy play.

Everybody goes to Rick’s

Insiders talked about the cheating as a necessary evil and nothing was done about it until, Fukuoka’s Nishinihon Shimbun broke with tradition and reported about the hometown Daiei Hawks’ “spying.”

The Hawks had staff decoding the visitors’ signs using video who would then relay that info to students the team hired to sit in the outfield. The student on duty would relay the sign to the hitter by the way he held the little cheering megaphones that are ubiquitous in the outfield seats at Japanese ball games.

Instead of ignoring what everyone assumed was going on and was more or less business as usual in Japanese baseball, the publication of the story caused NPB to explode into self righteous outrage.

Sound familiar to those of you following the MLB announcements?

Shocked to discover gambling going on

Investigations were launched and though nothing was proven, virtually everyone believed the story, and the Hawks team president was suspended on Jan. 18, 1999. That day, commissioner Hiromori Kawashima ordered six measures including a ban on all transmissions to the bench from outside the field of play.

The following day, the managers of the six Pacific League teams met and declared that in the interest of fair play, they would refrain from acts of spying while prohibiting runners or coaches from transmitting info based on stolen signs. The Central League soon followed suit.

Ten years later, the commissioner was granted the authority to suspend anyone who transmitted stolen signs, whether they were in uniform or not.

Standard operating indignation

The same scenario is replayed in various forms in Japanese society, the biggest one in baseball being NPB’s outrage that the Seibu Lions looked under the carpet where the organization’s dirt had been swept.

The Lions investigated breeches of NPB rules that prohibited cash payments to amateurs. By organizing a thorough investigation, the club sought to clean up baseball, and were punished for their good deeds. Instead of applauding their noble effort, the rest of NPB’s owners dumped on the Lions for having broken the rules.

A racist excuse for cheating among honest Japanese

I’m a fan of Nikkan Sports columnist Nobuyuki Kojima’s work. He writes in detail about historic matters and puts them in context, but his explanation for why Japan’s honest, noble ballplayers steal signs is essentially a racist rant. He blames sign stealing on the bad character of foreign players who lack the talent to make it in the majors and only come to Japan to earn a paycheck who spread their cheating ways among innocent Japanese.

Cheating, Japanese style

Now that two MLB managers and one GM have lost their jobs over a sign-stealing scheme, I thought I’d relay this conversation I had with former Chunichi Dragons cleanup hitter Kenichi Yazawa.

A few winters ago, he brought up the topic of the late Morimichi Takagi, who died suddenly on Friday. The taciturn Hall of Fame second baseman had a knack to spot opponents tipping their pitches. From there, the conversation moved to sign stealing, and the elaborate ways Japanese teams went to transmit that information to the guy in the batter’s box.

“Takagi loved finding out how guys tipped their pitches. He’d spot something like where the pitcher’s palm was. He’d tell me what to look for. But when I was at the plate, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t see it,” Yazawa said.

“When he was on the bench, he’d never say anything. He spent every instant concentrating on the pitcher. You could do that with (Yomiuri Giants star Suguru) Egawa. He’d hold the glove in front of his face in his windup, and you could tell by the size of the gap between the top of his glove and the bill of his cap whether it would be a fastball or not.”

“But for me, even if I could figure it out, I didn’t want to know because the whole process messed up my timing if I was thinking about that.”

“A former Taiyo Whales catcher, (Hisaaki) Fukushima. In the late innings once, when the score would be 6-0 or 7-0, he’d say, ‘Yazawa, what kind of pitch do you want next?’ I’d think, what would be good, so I’d say, ‘OK. How about a curve?’ I asked him if I’d really get one, and he said it would be a curve. And it was. So he’d ask if I wanted another one, and it here it came.”

“I liked to think along with the pitcher, try to guess based on the kind of pitcher he was. This type we’ll probably throw this, while another type of pitcher would throw that.”

“At old Nagoya Stadium, the Dragons used to station a scout inside the scoreboard. They weren’t like the electronic ones now. They had numbers and letters on boards. If we were playing the Giants, there would be a “G” and below it a “D.” If a curve or a breaking ball was coming, the scout would wiggle the “D,” so you’re there looking at, it’s in your line of sight to the pitcher. If it didn’t move, it meant the next pitch was a fastball.”

“That stuff all started with (Hall of Fame catcher Katsuya) Nomura with the Nankai Hawks. Blazer, Don Blasingame, was involved in that. He was really good at it. Another of the coaches they had at Nankai was Takeshi Koba.”

“Koba liked to do that when he was the manager in Hiroshima. At old Hiroshima Shimin, they had a member of the team staff in the scoreboard and there was a light in the scoreboard that would flash once for fastball and twice for a curve. Actually, I was the one who discovered that. After that they quit. Later they used a radio signal to trigger a buzzer that Koji Yamamoto and Sachio Kinugasa and players like that would have concealed in their sliding pants.”

Dr. Gail Hopkins, who played two years for the Carp when Koba was their manager and finished his Japan career with the Hawks under Nomura and “Blazer” — as Blasingame was known — has confirmed Yazawa’s account.