Red Sox sign-stealing controversy is being blown out of proportion

Red Sox manager Alex Cora should be punished if found guilty of sign-stealing accusations but let’s not overreact to the severity of this alleged crime.

Alex Cora has come under fire again for a sign-stealing controversy. He was at the center of the firestorm that erupted when MLB launched an investigation into the Houston Astros for positioning a camera in the outfield to record signs during his time as the bench coach for the organization. Now the Boston Red Sox are being scrutinized for their misuse of video replay for the same intention.

According to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic, the Red Sox have been accused of allowing players to visit the video replay room during games to learn the sign sequence of opponents.

The replay room was established to provide managers with immediate access to review plays in order to help them decide if they wish to challenge a call on the field. Hitters are also allowed to visit the replay room during games to study video. However, MLB made it clear prior to the 2018 season that the access to this video could not be used to decode signals from the opposing club during the game.

So, let me get this straight. MLB provides teams access to video replay during games for specific purposes but they are expected to ignore anything else on the screen? Watch only the bit of video that pertains to what you want to challenge. Hitters can study their swing but not what the catcher is doing behind them. Did they ever really believe teams would adhere to that?

The headlines are attacking the Red Sox but you’re being naive if you think other teams aren’t pulling similar shenanigans.

If Cora is indeed guilty of masterminding a sign-stealing scheme then some form of punishment is warranted. He broke a rule and should suffer the consequences. Let’s pump the breaks on those calling for the manager’s head though. Cora isn’t being fired over this “scandal.” A fine is inevitable and a brief suspension seems reasonable if MLB proves Cora had anything to do with these allegations.

Honestly, there doesn’t appear to be a realistic way to definitively “prove” anything. MLB’s investigation hinges on the testimonies of a few players who threw their former manager under the bus after leaving the organization.

This story has drawn nationwide attention and MLB may be inclined to drop the hammer on the Astros and Red Sox. It would be an overreaction but one that they may find necessary to discourage other teams from using technology to circumvent the rules.

If MLB is hellbent on sending a message then you can be assured that the punishment won’t fit the crime. The truth is that the crime isn’t as heinous as many are making it out to be. This isn’t exactly the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Sign stealing has been a part of baseball for almost as long as the sport has existed. The practice of learning your opponent’s signs and relaying them to the batter isn’t even against the rules. Frowned upon, perhaps, but MLB has no punishment for sign stealing. The exception is when technology is used as a tool to aid this purpose. The Red Sox aren’t doing anything that other teams haven’t done, they simply found a more efficient way of doing it. MLB has no way of wiping out sign-stealing completely but they will try to prevent teams from making it easier to do.

It may technically be cheating but there are various levels to the meaning of the dirtiest word in sports. On the scale of severity, sign stealing comes in relatively low. Hitting a baseball is extraordinarily difficult even when the batter knows what’s coming so let’s not pretend that Boston’s success was built primarily on breaking the rules.

If a pitcher is tipping his pitches should batters ignore it? Should the player not share that pitcher’s tell with his teammates? What’s the difference between figuring out that an opponent is tipping his pitches on the mound and figuring out what signs the catcher is sending the pitcher? The result is the same either way yet the pitcher is blamed when he’s tipping pitches while the opposing team is crucified if they had the audacity to steal signs. If you believe an opponent has learned your signs, mix up the signs!

The backlash of this media-fueled controversy is comparable to what the New England Patriots faced with SpyGate. The harshest critics of Bill Belichick are the ones who didn’t fully understand what they were found guilty of. They were punished for filming the Jets sideline signals during a 2007 regular-season game. What many don’t realize is that it’s not illegal to film your opponent’s signals! The issue was that they did so from the sideline instead of an approved location (such as the press box). So the cameraman standing in the wrong spot is essentially what the crime boiled down to.

The Patriots are a dynasty that the haters want to discredit by branding them cheaters despite that the advantage gained was minimal. Now the same is happening to the Astros and Red Sox in the wake of their World Series championships. If the Baltimore Orioles were caught doing the exact same thing, nobody would care.

What the Red Sox are accused of is less sinister than what Houston allegedly was doing. The Astros reportedly had a secret camera focused on the catcher giving signals. The Red Sox used MLB-approved video monitors during games under the assumption that the honor system would ensure they used the technology for the proper purpose. MLB didn’t begin monitoring replay rooms with on-site personnel until the 2018 postseason. That’s a notable difference yet I’m not about to throw a fit over what the Astros did either. Again, it’s just stealing signs, which everyone does to some extent.

Cora’s connection to both teams will bring more heat on him than it otherwise would. Expect MLB to take this seriously in order to prevent rampant misuse of the technology available but there ultimately isn’t anything they can do to completely stop sign stealing. Everyone watching the games at home can clearly see signs being given by catchers and coaches and those messages can be decoded.

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The story makes for spicy offseason debate but the accusations against Cora and the Red Sox are being wildly overblown. MLB would be wise to wrap up their investigation quickly so that we can all move on.

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