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.