Phillies Caught Stealing Signs

Remember when we suffered through Johan Santana’s awful start in Philadelphia? Some suggested that he was “tipping pitches”, and therefore letting the Phillies hitters know exactly what was coming?

Well, maybe the Phillies DID know what pitch was coming, but not because Johan was tipping it — rather, because the Phils’ bullpen coach was stealing signs from the catcher and relaying them to his hitters.

This outlandish claim does not come from my imagination, but rather from a recent incident in which Phillies coach Mick Billmeyer was caught redhanded — with binoculars! — during a game against the Rockies. If you read that article, you’ll learn that the Rockies were the SECOND team to complain to MLB about the Phillies stealing signs. The first team to file a complaint was — you guessed it — the New York Mets, who thought something was fishy about Santana’s May 2 start.

Thus far, MLB has done little to reprimand the Phillies, other than a mere slap on the wrist.

If the Phillies hitters know what’s coming, it certainly can make their job a little easier — particularly against a pitcher who has good command and is hitting the spots that are called. Using binoculars to steal signs has gone back for decades, with the most famous (infamous?) example being the alleged sign-stealing of the 1951 Giants against the Dodgers — when Bobby Thomson allegedly knew what pitch Ralph Branca was throwing when he hit the “shot heard ’round the world”.

Maybe the sign-stealing has done little to help the Phillies hitters. But it sure would help explain the worst outing of Johan Santana’s career.

Hat tip to alert MetsToday reader “Darin”, who emailed to me the link to MLB Fanhouse. Thanks Darin!

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. CatchDog May 13, 2010 at 8:19 am
    In the 10 games since the Phils beat Johan, they went 8-2 and averaged 6 runs a game. The very next game after being called out for possibly stealing signs, they score 3 and lose.


  2. isuzudude May 13, 2010 at 9:01 am
    Maybe I’m being ignorant, but what’s the big deal with stealing signs, anyway? Isn’t this the reason catchers and pitchers have elaborate combinations of signs in the first place – so that the opposing team can’t steal their signs? I feel as though, if the other team spends the energy and is smart enough to interpret and steal the opposing team’s signs, they deserve to reap the rewards. Maybe that’s just me.

    Additionally, just how, in the duration of time it takes a pitch to be thrown, does the bullpen coach look in with binoculars to the catcher, then get on the phone to call the dugout and tell someone there what pitch is coming, and then that person relays the information to the 3rd base coach, who then relays the information to the batter? That’s a lot of stuff going on in the matter of about 5 seconds. I certainly don’t want to go out of my way to defend the Phillies, but I’m really not sure I’m buying this story.

    We all witnessed Johan’s start against the Phillies when he got rocked, and he was anything but spectacular, whether the opposition was stealing signs or not. His fastball sat at an underwhelming 89 MPH all night, he was missing his spots by wide margins, and he was walking opposing pitchers. What has any of that got to do with stealing signs? Simply put, he pitched poorly against a powerful offensive lineup in a hitter’s ballpark. The results are pretty much what should be expected.

    If using binoculars in the bullpen is illegal, or if there is a rule (and it can’t be unwritten) in baseball in which stealing opposing teams’ signs is prohibited, then the Phillies have no defense. But from my point of view, casting my Mets bias (and anti-Philly bias) aside, I don’t think this is as ghastly as some are making it out to be.

  3. Mike May 13, 2010 at 10:14 am
    Well ‘dude, the report says the bullpen coach was “hanging over the fence” when the Phillies were hitting and not when they were in the field. Not knowing all the details and using just this to form a hypothesis, it is possible he was getting the signs from someone with means (binoculars, TV footage) and making some gesture with his arms to signify fastball/change up/etc. That is simply how it could have been going down.

    But I think more important is Charlie Manuel’s response to the accusation.

    “Somebody maybe ought to check the Mets if they did that. Their [bleeping] home record is out of this world and they’re losing on the road. Sometimes that’s a good indicator of getting signs and [crap]. I see somebody setting there at 17-2 at home and 4-12 on the road, I’d get concerned about that. That kind of crosses my mind… I’m not accusing them, but you look at that and – damn. We’re about the same home and road. I’m just saying their record is much better at home and they hit better… (The Rockies complained) Because we beat them… Keep crying. I’m sure if they can steal signs, they’ll steal them. And believe we will, too, if we can get them. Yeah, we will. Legally. If you’re dumb enough to let us get them, then that’s your fault. That’s been in the game for a long time.”

    Can a pitcher bean an opposing manager? I. Hate. Those. Pompous. Assholes.

    Please, for the love of baseball, nail each one of those Phillies hitters. I’d gladly accept a loss and several suspensions to get the point across.

  4. CatchDog May 13, 2010 at 10:49 am
    A former Phillie player (Marlon Anderson?) indicated that the Phils were relaying signs and utilizing a buzzer in the dugout. For instance; 1 buzz = fastball, 2 = breaking ball and 3 was a change up.

    Someone from the dugout would then yell out using key words such as “come on kid”, “let’s go” or “big hit”.

    The batter would just need to listen and make the necessary adjustments.

  5. Walnutz15 May 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm
    Rod Barajas was involved, 1st hand with Phillies’ signs and their bullpen….he was the guy, and would absolutely know what they’re doing back there.

    Here ya go:

    My take on sign-stealing is:

    If your signs are that easy to pick up on, then they deserve to be stolen.

    If I’ve played on teams that were capable of making modifications/calling audibles along the way – then Major Leaguers should be able to, too.

    Getting shellacked?

    Guys all of a sudden picking up on your pitches; almost as if they “knew it was coming”?

    Hmm….let’s get together in-between innings and switch things up….if for nothing else but as a precautionary measure.

    Simple as that.

    If you’re THAT resourceful, where you’re picking up on every combination – and STILL have enough time to relay it to your coaches and hitters?

    Have right at it. The team you’re doing it to is like the tourist on the subway with their wallet hanging out of their pocket.

    As is the case with everything else, though — be prepared to deal with the consequences, provided you’re caught red-handed.

    Guys using binoculars, for stuff other than to check out the talent in the stands….should be prepared to get their arses handed to them on a silver platter. That’s all.

    As far as Charlie Manuel is concerned: If I were him, I’d stick to speaking about the Mets when my team was playing them. Anything else you provide to the media is going to get thrown back into a (crap)-storm involving the “intense rivalry” of the Mets and Phils.

    He’s just making himself sound silly here.