The Dodgers have good reason to be sensitive about sign-stealing in baseball.
After all, Los Angeles was on the wrong side of a World Series bout with the 2017 Astros, who used technology and live video feeds to directly relay opponents’ signs to hitters in real time.
But the Dodgers’ hiring of former Red Sox video replay coordinator J.T. Watkins — who was suspended by MLB for the 2020 season for his role in a sign-stealing scandal — isn’t raising any alarms for many veterans in L.A.’s clubhouse.
Why is that?
“No matter what enhancements technology had back then, there needs to be a clear distinction between what the Astros did and what everybody else did,” Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw told Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times.
Kershaw’s sentiment about the variance found in the team’s sign-stealing efforts was reinforced by his teammate (and former Red Sox outfielder) Mookie Betts.
The Astros’ scheme was the most prevalent, thorough, and arguably the most advantageous in terms of real-time at-bats. But Betts was candid when asked if he was aware that the 2018 Red Sox occasionally used live video to steal signs.
“Yeah,” Betts told Hernandez. “Everybody was.”
Betts, who endorsed Watkins’ hiring along with another former Sox regular in J.D. Martinez, said that Boston did not use any sign-stealing schemes during the 2018 World Series against the Dodgers.
During MLB’s investigation that resulted in Watkins’ suspension, the league ruled that the Red Sox utilized sign-stealing measures only during the 2018 regular season. The report yielded insufficient evidence of Boston using those same schemes during the 2018 postseason or the 2019 regular season.
Betts acknowledged that Boston used their sign-stealing scheme infrequently.
“Every now and … It’s kind of hard to remember,” Betts noted.
However, Betts added that stealing signs was far from the reason why the 2018 Red Sox were so dominant.
“This is what I’m trying to say. People are trying to make it like we’re cheating,” Betts told Hernandez. “Give us credit. We had a good team. Give us some credit. We had Cy Young winners. We had MVPs. We had Gold Glove winners. We had Silver Sluggers. We had all that. Take that into account.”
As part of the MLB’s findings on Boston’s sign-stealing methods in 2018, the league docked the Sox a second-round pick in 2020 and issued a season-long suspension for Watkins. Sox manager Alex Cora was banned for the 2020 season due to his actions as Houston’s bench coach in 2017.
Even though Watkins’ use of video technology in Boston’s replay room did aid in the team’s effort to steal signs, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged in the league report that Boston’s strategy was not as exhaustive (or effective) as the Astros.
“I find that unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’ conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact,” Manfred wrote.
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