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SIGINT, the 1951 Giants, and Home Runs

By kipster in MLP
Thu Feb 01, 2001 at 06:23:51 PM EST
Tags: Security (all tags)

The Wall Street Journal has an article accusing the 1951 Giants of stealing the catcher's signs with a telescope and a telegraph. The SIGINT gathering began soon after Henry Schenz joined the team and helped the Giants begin their improbable winning streak. They were 13.5 games behind in August and tied at the end of the season.

The Journal charges a modest fee for access, but you can find a summary at Flyzone. Or you can just buy the deadtree edition and get some neat pictures too.

In any case, the story is simple. The Giants parked their third base coach in the manager's office which just happened to be in the right place to steal signs. This information was relayed by a buzzer to the bullpen where the backup catcher would send a signal to the batter. The article is based on a number of confessions but it also includes a few denials.

In the interest of fairness, I'll note that the Giants did rack up a 16 game winning streak including 13 games at home with the right guy in the manager's box. But they also picked up 14 out of 18 road games at the end of the season. Did they steal signs on the road too? The article doesn't say.


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If I could steal signs, I would
o Steal the meaning behind the glances girls give each other at bars. 64%
o Steal the performance reviews of my coworkers. 2%
o Steal orange crop report from the Commerce Department. 18%
o Steal the email of that cute new worker. 7%
o Steal the answers to the next exam. 6%

Votes: 152
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Wall Street Journal
o a summary at Flyzone
o Also by kipster

Display: Sort:
SIGINT, the 1951 Giants, and Home Runs | 26 comments (12 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
All part of the game (4.75 / 8) (#1)
by ajschu on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 09:38:25 AM EST

As far as I'm concerned, it's fine if one team steals another's signs. There's no rule against it, and managers have been accused of it since the game began. There was even a case in the past few years in one of the new stadiums where visiting teams accused the home team of stealing signs with a well-placed camera, although I can't remember what teams it involved. If you're able to get a leg up on your opponent, more power to you. Even more power to you if you don't get caught!

Something that I've always found interesting is that many players, given the choice, would rather not know what pitch is coming.


Sports and spying (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by ucblockhead on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 12:38:14 PM EST

In American football, there have long been accusations of teams listening in to each other's radio broadcasts, and attempts to get a look at other team's playbooks are probably as old as the sport.

In the case of baseball, it should be pretty clear that the use of coded signals pretty much assumes that the other team is going to try to figure them out. And a smart team will actively work to keep them from being figured out.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Umm... what signs? (3.81 / 11) (#7)
by dave.oflynn on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 11:23:10 AM EST

Not being American / Japanese / Cuban (the only countries that seem to play significant amounts of baseball), my immediate reaction to this was, 'What??? Why would they steal (physical) signs from a stadium. And why is this news?'

Therefore (selfishly, I suppose), -1. Besides, it's pay-per-view.

Pitch Selection (4.50 / 2) (#8)
by jwsh on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 11:50:28 AM EST

The 'signs' in question are pitch selection. When playing baseball, it is important for the catcher to know what pitch the pitcher is throwing, and where. If he doesn't then he will be unable to catch the pitch, and unable to set a target for the pitcher to throw at. To facilitate this, the catcher 'calls' a pitch by putting a number of fingers between his legs (1 for a fastball, 2 for a curve, 3 for a change-up). The pitcher will then decide whether he wants to throw that pitch and nod yes, or no (if no, the catcher will suggest another pitch). This way the pitcher and catcher are on the same page, and nobody on the other team can see the signs, so it is fairly safe (unless they put a man in the stands to steal the signs).

[ Parent ]
or... (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by DoorFrame on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 01:21:36 PM EST

or there's a guy on second base. they usually have some more obfuscated set of signs for when someone is on second base if i recall correctly.

stealing signs by use of technology and non players is pretty obnxious though. and doesn't the third base coach need to be on the field and not in the manager's box? it all seems quite odd.

[ Parent ]
I read the article (4.00 / 2) (#17)
by jwsh on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 03:02:39 PM EST

Yeah, I had written up more of a description about using different signs for when there's a runner on second, and more details, but this guy seemed to not know a thing about baseball, so I decided to cut it out and just give him the very basics.) Anway one of my housemates gets the WSJ, so I read the article. The reason they used the 3rd base coach was because he used to be a catcher. Originally, they had used a utility outfielder, but I guess he had a hard time reading the signs, so they used the ex-catcher who would be able to read all the signs reliably. For what it's worth, stealing signs via mechanical device was not illegal back then, so they weren't doing anything against the rules, that rule wasn't created until 1961.

[ Parent ]
Not JUST pitch selection (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by ajschu on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 01:26:46 PM EST

Signs also are given for things like a pitch-out. For those of you unfamiliar with the intricacies of the game, a pitch-out is where, with a runner on base, the pitcher intentionally throws the ball far out of the strike zone for a single pitch. This is called if the runner on base is expected to attempt a steal. If the ball is thrown out of the strike zone (ie. away from the batter), the catcher can make the catch standing up and (presumably) make a quicker and more accurate throw to the base which the runner is trying to steal.

Signs also exist for an intentional walk, but it'd be pointless to try to steal those signs anyway.


[ Parent ]
Baseball playing nations... (3.50 / 2) (#10)
by ucblockhead on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 12:35:18 PM EST

Actually, it isn't just Cuba, but also much of Central America as well.

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
I see... (3.33 / 3) (#22)
by iCEBaLM on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 04:51:57 PM EST

So Canada, with two (Toronto Blue Jays, Montreal Expos) Major League Baseball teams, and the site of The First Recorded Baseball Game doesn't count? Not to mention the dozens of other countries who play it (Central and Southern America, etc.)

-- iCEBaLM

[ Parent ]

Baseball mechanics (4.18 / 11) (#13)
by Khedak on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 01:13:40 PM EST

Many international readers are expressing confusion over what the baseball references mean, being unfamiliar with the game mechanics. Essentially it's like this

The pitcher and the catcher are on the same team. The batter is on the other team. The pitcher and catcher stand some distance apart and face one another, and the batter stands in front of the catcher and slightly to the side, facing the pitcher. The pitcher is trying to throw the ball in such a way that the batter will be unable to hit it. However, he also has to ensure that the catcher can catch it. To do this, the catcher makes hand signals to the pitcher, and the pitcher will signal back typically with only very basic signals so that the batter (facing him) cannot decipher them.

However, in this example, someone in the stadium was in a position to see (with optical aids) the (more complex) hand signals being sent by the catcher, and was sending them via telegraph to a person who would then hand signal the batter. Now, since the batter knows exactly what kind of throw to expect, he has a good idea of its speed and its path, and thus he has a much better chance to hit the ball.

Since hitting the ball is an essential part of earning points in baseball, this was good for the batting team, bad for the pitching team (especially since they assumed their communications were secure). There are actually lots more game mechanics that I left out, but this is as small as I could make it so that the story would make sense.

Baseball and Tech stuff (5.00 / 3) (#18)
by westfirst on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 03:22:52 PM EST

Okay, this article may not spell out the connection between stealing baseball signs and life online, but let me take a shot at it. We're currently in a big debate over privacy in an on-line world. Here we have a big story about how some sneaky guys used special technology to eavesdrop on a conversation and change the course of history. Who won the pennant in 1951 isn't that big a deal, but it was very important to many people then. The Giants remarkable winning streak is a major sports legend and now it becomes obvious that it was clearly part of a ruse.

So what does that mean for life online? Many people often play down the influence of the widespread eavesdropping by system administrators, company officials, police agents, the NSA, and others. They argue that the information isn't worth that much, people shouldn't be worried if they're not guilty, or a host of other excuses. They're right. Each email or trip to a website isn't worth that much. But a little advantage can be worth alot. The Giants had a great winning streak once they started stealing the signs. Maybe that had something to do with it.

This is just one datapoint. The article at Flyzone does point out that they won plenty on the road and we don't know if they were stealing signs there too. Also, the sign stealing didn't seem to help when the Yankees rolled into town. (Rolled across town?) They lost two world series games at home, buzzer and all.

Still, I think it's an interesting story. It would have been better if someone drew the connection between SIGINT in baseball and the world of today. But I'll leave that for other posters. We need to have something to argue about.

My culture (4.00 / 2) (#26)
by topher on Wed Jan 31, 2001 at 09:13:26 PM EST

Baseball is part of my culture. Bullfighting is not, but it may be part of yours. I LOVE baseball, and I like to hear how teams would get a leg up on the opposition.

One problem with the poll ...

What about the glances men give women? (They don't always mean we want to have sex with you)

My vote +1

SIGINT, the 1951 Giants, and Home Runs | 26 comments (12 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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