Yankees, Judge deserve benefit of the doubt for controversial at-bat
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider is right. It is extremely uncommon for a hitter to look sideways at his dugout while in the batter’s box facing a pitcher. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever seen it happen.
So, it is no surprise that the Blue Jays broadcasters working Monday night’s Jays-New York Yankees game at Rogers Centre called it out when they saw Yankees superstar Aaron Judge briefly glance away from the pitcher and to the right in the direction of the Yankees’ dugout. It is also no surprise that the Jays players and staff thought something nefarious was taking place. It is especially conspicuous when Judge’s at-bat ends in a home run.
Judge, in his postgame explanation, said he was looking to see who was chirping the umpires from the Yankees dugout. That is not an unreasonable explanation, either. New York manager Aaron Boone had just been ejected from the game and the entire team was frustrated by the home plate umpire’s strike zone. As the captain of his team, Judge didn’t think it was appropriate for players in the Yankees’ dugout to be yelling at umpires when they were already ahead 6-0 in the eighth inning in a game they ended up winning 7-4.
So, I don’t know exactly what was going on, but I have a good idea about what wasn’t going on. I don’t think that the Yankees were trying to signal pitches to Judge during his at-bat against Jays reliever Jay Jackson. If by chance New York had seen something with Jackson’s delivery that tipped what pitch was coming, or saw catcher Alejandro Kirk shifting a certain way behind the plate to indicate the pitch selection, or somehow saw Kirk flashing signs, the delivery method of that information to Judge would not be visual. It would be verbal.
It makes no sense to have a hitter stand in the batter’s box, with a pitcher throwing 98 mph heat, and take his eyes off the pitcher to get a signal from the bench.
You also have to remember that with the pitch timer introduced in the majors this season, the batter must have his attention on the pitcher with eight seconds remaining on the clock. If a pitch was being tipped it would likely happen within the eight seconds. Also, the quick glances that Judge made in the direction of the dugout were not long enough in duration to pick up a specific person or signal as to what pitch was coming and then to process it in time to take a swing at it.
If a team knows what pitch is coming, the information is communicated with words. It would be something like, “If I say your name, the pitch is a fastball.” “If I say your number, the pitch is a breaking ball.”
Then, when the hitter is in the batter’s box, the person delivering the information would say, “Come on Aaron, hum baby.” That means a fastball is coming. Or the message would be, “Come on 9-9, get ’em here.” That would mean a breaking ball is coming.
The pitch information can also be communicated with sounds, such as the banging of a garbage can, a tactic used by the Houston Astros during the sign-stealing scandal in 2017.
What I want to also dispel is any notion that Judge or the Yankees were cheating. If somehow the Yankees picked up something organically that allowed them to figure out what pitches were being thrown and used it to gain an advantage, that is not cheating.
Cheating is using electronics in real-time to alert hitters of what pitch is coming. That’s what the Astros did a few years ago. That is nearly impossible to do now. Major League Baseball has an employee in video rooms and runways to the dugout. They are on the lookout for this and would report it immediately to the Commissioner’s Office.
So, if the Yankees stole signs during Monday’s game, shame on the Blue Jays. It is incumbent on every team to be protective of their information and signals. Although it is not a rule violation to steal signs organically, it is a code violation. It is one of baseball’s unwritten rules: If you steal signs, don’t get caught relaying them to your hitters, because if you do you are vulnerable to retaliation. It is sort of a player-on-player crime.
Judge won’t likely get thrown at in an obvious way. Kevin Gausman’s start, on Tuesday night, is too crucial to the Jays especially on the heels of Alek Manoah’s struggles of late. But somewhere down the road or late in the game, Judge will take a fastball in the middle of his back and everyone will know it was because of what happened on Monday.
Schneider said all the right things when he mentioned that the Jays need to tighten things up. They need to make sure that they are not tipping pitches in any way, shape or form. That is an acknowledgement on his part that if the Yankees did have the pitches, it was in the Jays’ fault.
The Jays also made a call to MLB’s Commissioner’s Office to confirm and reinforce the rule that base coaches need to stay in their marked coach’s boxes and do not stray in any way to sneak a peek at the catcher’s signs. That is a hint that the Jays believe that it was possible that the Yankees’ first base coach, Travis Chapman, might have been able to see the signs Kirk was flashing to Jackson on the mound.
Judge is upset because he feels he’s been accused of cheating. His actions on Monday night were abnormal when he kept glancing at the dugout which prompted the questions. The questions were legitimate, given the lingering trauma from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
But, at its worst, this is not anything close to what the Astros did. It is not cheating.
At its best, it was Yankees captain Judge trying to lead his team and see who was chirping in the dugout.
I prefer to give Aaron Judge the benefit of the doubt. He is a solid citizen. He has always carried himself with class and dignity. Nothing about this changes that for me.