Shut Up and Play Baseball – Phillies Nation

Shut Up and Play Baseball

When I was in sixth grade, the last year I played baseball and was any good at it, I was playing first base in the late innings of a close game. A batter on the opposing team drew a walk, as sixth-graders so often do, and when he got to first base, the first base coach started giving him instructions.

I was standing behind the bag, maybe 10 feet away, when the first base coach said the following in a normal conversational tone: “Ok, go on the second pitch.”

He didn’t whisper or anything, just used a normal inside tone with an opposing player clearly within earshot. So I did what any 11-year-old would do. I screamed as loud as I could, “He’s stealing on the second pitch!”

The coach looked at me like I had made an unsavory remark toward his daughter. “What’d you do that for?” he asked.

“I’m right here,” I said. “I can hear everything you say.”

To my amazement, the kid attempted to steal on the second pitch anyway. Our catcher, who hadn’t thrown out a would-be basestealer all year, threw him out by five feet.

The moral of this story is that if you’re going to be an idiot on the baseball diamond, you deserve whatever comes to you.

As many of you may have read, the Phillies have been accused of stealing signs and warned by Major League Baseball. Bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer allegedly trained a pair of binoculars on the Rockies’ catcher Monday night and relayed the signs to Shane Victorino later on via the bullpen phone.

Now, I think the use of binoculars is a bit much. I also think that Mick Billmeyer sounds like the name of someone who spent the 1980s shoving Anthony Michael Hall and John Cusack into lockers in John Hughes movies.

But I have no problem with stealing signs as such. Isn’t the whole point of having signs to gain an advantage by deceiving the offensive players? If your signs are so transparent that they can be decoded by a baserunner or coach, get better signs. If your signs are for the catcher to call out pitch type and location and the other team “steals” them, can you complain?

I’ve had it up to here with the “unwritten rules” of baseball. While it is against the rules to use electronic equipment to relay signals to players, sign stealing is not outlawed by MLB, which in my mind makes it not only the right but the duty of major league ballplayers to try to steal the opposing team’s signs.

Mick Billmeyer and Shane Victorino are both paid by the Phillies to do one job: help the team win more games. If they don’t exhaust every option available to them within the rules to achieve that end, they’re not doing their jobs.

On ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast Monday, Seth Everett praised Rays manager Joe Maddon for not pinch-hitting or calling a bunt in order to break up Dallas Braden’s perfect game. I think he should be criticized for following the game’s “unwritten rules.” Maddon’s job is to help the Rays win, not to be an accessory to a great story and a historic moment if it costs his team a chance to win. Having not had a baserunner through 7 or 8 innings, Maddon should have tried to get a man on base at any cost.

I can really live without Braden, who, his perfect game notwithstanding, is trying as hard as he can to come off as a class-A nimrod, pitching a fit because A-Rod took the most convenient path back to first base. I think that Braden, by treating us to a hall-of-fame panties-in-a-twist moment over a trivial offense, exhibited worse sportsmanship than A-Rod did by absentmindedly violating a made-up rule that the vast majority of fans didn’t know existed in the first place.

Sign stealing has been part of baseball since the beginning—that’s why we have signs. If it’s okay to try to gain the tactical advantage by deception and surprise, it ought to be okay for the opponent to try to eliminate that edge. Willie Mays was renowned as a legendary sign-stealer—anyone want to talk about his lack of respect for the game?

On Slate magazine’s excellent (and I do mean excellent, I’d recommend downloading it right now) podcast, Hang Up and Listen two weeks ago, Mike Pesca (I’m 90 percent sure it was him and not his NPR colleague Stefan Fatsis, but it was one of the two) suggested that baseball players, because they are not allowed to fight, hit, or throw balls at one another, take out their pent-up aggression by creating and enforcing these elaborate rules. It’s created a sanctimonious culture that mainstream sportswriters, in their ongoing effort to prove to pro athletes that they “get it,” have perpetuated.

Here’s my response. Let’s knock off the bullshit and play baseball. Quit whining about someone stepping on your mound. Don’t like that someone bunted to break up a no-hitter? Throw him out at first. Don’t like that someone’s stealing signs? Rotate to another set.

Here’s the complete list unwritten rules I’d have for players if I were dictator of the world. A major league baseball player should, in this order:

• Try as hard as he can to help his team win through any legal means

• Display good sportsmanship and try not to show up the other players whenever possible. Expressing one’s happiness, excitement, anger, or disappointment is fine, just don’t act like a jackass.

• Have fun and entertain the fans

So while Mick Billmeyer should probably leave his bird-watching glasses home (until the Phils go to St. Louis next—then he can say he was just trying to get a better look at the Cardinals, amirite?), there’s no crying in baseball. I’m not glued to the TV to watch you enforce a heraldic code of chivalry, people. I’m glued to the TV to watch you play some ball.



  1. Nick

    May 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Great article

  2. Justin

    May 12, 2010 at 10:13 pm

    I agree, but what would really help is Rod Barajas’ take on the matter. Thanks, ESPN.

  3. Jeff

    May 12, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    who cares. im more concerned that we gave the waste howard all that money. cant make a simple throw to second late in the game. his power is down. just a waste of space.

  4. Yankee Fan, Phillies Phriend

    May 12, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Love it, here here baumann

  5. MikeB.

    May 12, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Most ridiculous were Colorado manger Jim Tracy’s comments in regards to the accusation of the cheating by the Phils,

  6. George

    May 12, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    I’ll agree that many “unwritten rules” are a load of horse manure. I will not, however, agree that Mick Billmeyer’s use of binoculars was benign. If you’re standing on second base and can see the catcher’s fingers go down, that’s one thing, but looking in from the bullpen with magnification is cheating–even if it’s only “unwritten cheating”–and the Rockies had every right to complain and have it stopped.

  7. Kyle

    May 13, 2010 at 1:21 am

    Like my old high school baseball coach once said, “If you aren’t trying to cheat…you aren’t trying to win”. However, while I do agree that stealing signs has been around for much of baseball, I’m with George on this one that using binoculars from the bullpen is crossing the line. We stole signs as BASE RUNNERS on second base, relayed them to the 3rd base coach, who in turn relayed them to the hitter but it’s not like we were using equipment to give us an even better means of doing so.

    In all honesty, It doesn’t matter to me what the Phillies do…that is until they play the Astros. (yes…I’m still a fan despite this season’s record lol) But why not just try to gain a slight advantage the right way? If that makes any sense at all…

    Anyways, VERY nice article!

  8. Aaron

    May 13, 2010 at 2:16 am

    I was actually on Bradens side with the A-Rod thing. I kinda see the mound as the crease in hockey, when an opposing player gets in there he gets cross checked in the back away from the goalie. Just not really an area a player needs to run across.

    Using binoculars is without a doubt crossing the line. Lets set up bugs in the opposing teams dug out next.

    Your “unwritten rules” are technically written now that you have put them on here.

    Sorry if I seem to just being argumentative but this article doesn’t really help with the shut up and just play baseball idea because all we do here is the exact opposite of shutting up.

  9. Lewisauce

    May 13, 2010 at 5:02 am

    I think it is wrong to use binoculars to steal signs.

    That said, there’s no way in hell that Billmeyer was actually using binoculars to steal signs. The following would have to happen:

    Catcher flashes sign, pitcher sets.
    Billmeyer calls dugout.
    Vic answers.
    Billmeyer says, “heater high and tight.”
    Vic flashes sign for “heater high and tight” to third-base coach.
    Batter looks at third base coach.
    Third base coach flashes sign for “heater high and tight” to batter.
    Batter sets, but the “heater high and tight” was actually two pitches ago at this point, and since batter isn’t paying attention, he watches a fastball whoosh down the pike and gets called out on strikes.

    This is ridiculous. Maybe Billmeyer was getting patterns, but then his info isn’t any better than the guys who have already been up to bat. So he calls Vic and says, “He’s throwing a lot of first-pitch change-ups down in the zone.” And Vic says, “No sh*t? We figured that out 20 minutes ago, moron.” What the hell does Billmeyer answer? “Yeah, but the sign for it is three fingers, left thigh. Did you know that?”


    Billmeyer was looking at some knockers in the stands, and can’t say it publicly, ’cause his wife would throw a hissy fit.

    Get real, people. The Phils win games because they are a better team than most of the teams they play. Not because of some crazy conspiracies.

  10. Tracey

    May 13, 2010 at 5:26 am

    The whole thing is ridiculous. What century is Jim Tracy living in? You don’t need binoculars to see the signs. All you need is a television in the dugout, because the broadcasts constantly show close-ups of the catcher’s crotch. In many games, the broadcasters have already figured out the signs and tell you during the broadcast what the pitch is going to be based on the sign!

    @MikeB: Yeah, my brain nearly exploded when I saw Tracy’s comment (no relation; he doesn’t even spell the name right). Cheating is OK as long as you don’t get caught? He should be sanctioned for that comment alone.

  11. MikeB.

    May 13, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Tracey; yeh, the Rox manager was unrealistic with his comments.

  12. The Dipsy

    May 13, 2010 at 7:04 am

    I believe that trying to steal signs is not only only permissible but should be encouraged. After all, signs are laid down in plain sight so therefore, in my mind, fair game. Wouldn’t it be absurd if I was able to pick up on a team’s signs and then NOT pass them along to my teammates?

    The Dipsy

  13. George

    May 13, 2010 at 9:07 am

    No one would allow TV sets in the dugout, so that’s not an option. Binoculars were therefore the means used, and that’s an artificial aid, and as such is cheating. Signs are fair game, but not if they can only be stolen with extra equipment.

    A player in the batter’s box does not have the view that a bullpen coach might. Someone viewing from a distance could probably see not just patterns, but head movements and gestures by the pitcher and catcher which indicate things the batter can watch for later.

    I’d be fine with stealing the other team’s signs if Billmeyer hadn’t been using equipment that’s not allowed. It’s the equivalent of a football player with a crowbar in his pants.

  14. Brett

    May 13, 2010 at 9:31 am

    I agree with Braden. If the only person in baseball not following that particular unwritten rule is A-Rod, maybe he’s the crazy one, and not the hundreds of other players that actually respect the mound.

  15. johnkrukslovechild

    May 13, 2010 at 9:36 am

    Great article. Overall I do agree, but idk about bunting to break up a no hitter. Yes you should do what it takes to win, but cheap shotting someone just to get on base is kind of lame. I mean, if you’re gonna do it, fair enough, but I wouldn’t if I was a manager. If the opposing pitcher is chewing up my team that badly, let it be a lesson.

  16. Troutman

    May 13, 2010 at 9:51 am

    Didn’t play alot of ball, did you Mike? What makes baseball great are the “unwritten rules”. They are what they are and I hope articles like yours don’t diminish their relevance to the game.

  17. mike's a moron

    May 13, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    obviously, you know nothing about baseball mike.

    go back to cheating you philths.

  18. MikeB.

    May 13, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Here we go again with posters and their personal insults.

  19. MikeB.

    May 13, 2010 at 7:33 pm

    Jim Tracy’s comments made him look like the little boy out to play his first little league baseball game and the opposing team somehow cheats by stealing signs from the team he is playing for which winds up, as he sees it, allowing the opposing team to unfairly beat his team. The kid is surprised, disappointed and hurt as he learns for the first time that things like stealing signs goes on. These things have been going on for years and Tracy has to know that it does yet he made comments that made it sound like he had no idea that it was going on and that the Phillies were the first team to start it or do it for the first time, if in fact, thats what they were really doing.

  20. MikeB.

    May 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Troutman, no I did not play alot of baseball as I was not fast enough to play competitive baseball and I had more of a football player’s build then a baseball player’s. I do not see how my short posts could have anything to do with the diminishing of the relevance of the “unwritten rules” of baseball to that game. One has to guard against being unrealistic or nieve in their thinking and reasoning. Whether we support or are against stealing signs and other “unwritten rules” of baseball and I never posted that I was specifically for them, professional teams have been breaking the “unwritten rules” for years whether we or anybody else like it or not and they will continue to do so in one form or another whether we like it or not and there is nothing we posters and fans can do about it. It is a problem for Major League Baseball and the teams to address. Of course we can continue to post about it and go round and round and round…

  21. MikeB.

    May 13, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    mike’s a moron Says is a moron. At least Troutman posted with class.

  22. Keith

    May 14, 2010 at 9:27 am

    sure you can try to steal signs all you want (though binoculars…i mean, really?) but if you get CAUGHT – take it like a MAN. Instead your boy Manual is denying till he is blue in the face, blaming other teams, and making himself and his team look like morons. Charlie – it’s over, you got caught. STOP CRYING that other teams are calling you out on it.

    Also your article is rubbish. Pretty sure there is a slight difference between alerting you catcher in little league that a guy is stealing bc you overheard the opposing coach say it. I hate to tell you, but that is not “stealing signs”. That is the opposing coaches own stupidity. Even stealing signs from the third base coach (if you can figure out the pattern) is more in line with the accepted way to gain that particular advantage. What the Phillies did however, is over the line – and also somewhat comical that they thought they would get away with it.

    Even more comical that all the Phils fans (much like this article) are trying to sweep it under the rug. “lets just play baseball”. HAHA. Imagine if someone was caught cheating AGAINST the Phillies? Whoah boy, look out. All their fans would get right back up on that high horse real fast!!

  23. MikeB.

    May 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    As expected, fans from certain opposing teams who do not like the Phillies are blowing the cheating accusation thing all out of proportion. No proof. All speculation. Nobody has concrete evidence of exactly what was going on. They only think it was going on because what was seen looked like it.

  24. Lewisauce

    May 15, 2010 at 8:35 am

    I smell the grease of a Mets fan or two in here …

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