Jonathan Kahane: Given baseball’s past, sign stealing is nothing

  • In this Sept. 9, 2019, file photo, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora talks about the dismissal of president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. Cora was fired last week for after being implicated him in the sport’s sign-stealing scandal. AP

Published: 1/20/2020 5:00:26 PM

Being born and raised in the Bronx for 18 years during the ’40s and ’50s, baseball became part of my genetic code. After all, every kid in my neighborhood was preparing himself to play shortstop or centerfield for the Yankees, the Giants, or in my case, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Truth be told, I still hang around the phone during March, expecting to get a call from the Dodger organization asking me to come down to spring training. They’re looking for a knuckleball reliever. So naturally I have been following the recent sign stealing “cheating scandal” that has been monopolizing the hot stove baseball season this winter.

My take on this current brouhaha is probably different from today’s popular stance on the issue. I might chalk it up to the fact that I became an incorrigible cynic when the Dodgers left Brooklyn. The old joke goes like this: Say you had a gun with two bullets and standing in front of you were Hitler, Stalin and Walter O’Malley. Whom would you shoot? Answer: O’Malley, twice!

This kerfuffle about sign stealing is just that — a kerfuffle. Sign stealing has been part of baseball since before the first pitcher in history went into his first windup. Even in high school ball, if you got to second base, you relayed the catcher’s sign to your buddy at bat. In “The Bigs,” teams would have multiple members of the team wig wagging signs to confuse the opposition.

If we review baseball history, it becomes very clear very early that the personnel were often not the fine upstanding All-American boys that MLB has tried to portray in our Great American Pastime. Some of the game’s greatest stars were drunks (Babe Ruth), just plain nasty individuals (Ty Cobb), and pitchers whose motto was: For every guy on my team you hit, I’ll hit two of yours (Don Drysdale). These men are enshrined in the Hall of Fame. There have also been some great players who were gamblers (Pete Rose, who belongs in The Hall), convicted felons (Lenny Dykstra), steroid users (Barry Bonds) and others. (This begs the question of why David Ortiz is immune from this shadow.)

Mel Hall was a sexual predator. Julio Machado was convicted of manslaughter. Milton Bradley was convicted of domestic abuse. This is the tip of the iceberg. It goes without saying that most parents wouldn’t want their daughters to go on a date with these guys. The 1919 Black Sox Scandal is epic.

Baseball is full of shenanigans. Pitchers “doctoring” baseballs before pitches is legendary. Preacher Roe lived by the spitball. To me, if a guy can get away with loading up the ball in front of 70,000 fans, six umpires, and an opposing team, that’s baseball. I don’t like it, however, when someone corks his bat behind closed doors in the clubhouse.

The game has been full of more egregious sins as well. Baseball history is full of bigotry. Jackie Robinson endured prejudice from fans and teammates alike through his entire career, as did Hank Greenberg.

Charlie Dressen was the Dodger manager in the early 1950s and he was a self-proclaimed anti-Semite. He always shunned Cal Abrams and kept him benched. One day “The Bums” had a twin bill with the Cardinals. Dressen told Abrams that if he mercilessly criticized Marty Marion (the Cardinal skipper) during the first game, he’d play him in the nightcap. Abrams took the bait and cursed out Marion during the first game. Just before the second game started, Dressen went up to Abrams and congratulated him on being traded to the Cardinals.

And MLB is bent out of shape about sign stealing? It seems that what bothers many is the use of electronic devices to commit this heinous crime. There’s not a MLB manager who doesn’t use his laptop, cellphone, clubhouse computer, or video replays to make decisions and review plays.

I find it interesting that not one owner is being investigated in this “high crimes and misdemeanors” event. Maybe MLB should think about serving tea during the 7th inning stretch in their attempt to make the game more acceptable. Don’t forget the napkins.

I’m waiting for the day that they suspend Mookie Betts for stealing second base.

Jonathan Kahane lives in Westhampton.

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