Is This Cheating, or being Informed?
Baseball has endured all kinds of horrors and indiscretions over its duration. There has been the Spitball or doctoring the ball Era, the Dead Ball Era, Live Ball Era, and of course, the recent Steroid Era. But for some reason, I am beginning to think Major League Baseball might be entering into another new and systematically devastating era that has just starting to peak its way over the horizon…. I am beginning to think we are just on the threshold of the Electronic Era.
With the advancements in electronics, video equipment and also audio response devices, the whole scenario has endless possibilities. There are now people assigned to the job of breaking down a opposing pitcher’s mechanics to show indications of what pitch might be coming out of their hand at any particular moment. Teams have endless research and statistics at their fingertips from web sources and in-house agencies like Bloomberg Sports. And then there are the players who seek every advantage to get the upper hand on their competition, not just to gain a “W”, but to get added motivation and confidence. This Era could be the most devastating to the sport.
You might wonder why I am beginning to bring such matters up, why I am focusing on this one item that could explode and show that technology has made it was onto the field, and that one recent discovery, maybe by accident, could show that violations could already be effecting the game I love. It is not like Major League Baseball players will take an edge or any advantage they can get and throw it out the window if it is in a gray area. But when they step into that black and white area where few dare to tread for repercussions and penalties, that is when I am concerned.
Tuesday night during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the San Diego Padres, I first heard a few mumbles from a few faithful Rays fans of a certain player maybe having a “cheat sheet” in his back pocket on the field. Now I know players are allowed to have a small laminated sheet to illustrate maybe fielding positional changes, and maybe even give a heads up to hitting tendencies to a certain spot, or gap. But as I watched this player kind of without immediate attention that night something began to stir.
There I was again remembering how I used to use tactics of my own to get an edge in sports. I was not a dirty player, but if you let me have an advantage, I did take it and run every time. And the fielding “cheat sheets” by Padres Tony Gwynn Junior and Will Venable did not bother me until I personally saw something else pop out of Venable’s pocket on Wednesday night. From that moment on, for the rest of the night, I saw him take out both a laminated card and read it before certain Rays hitters, and then something else seemed to have come out of his pocket, and it shocked me.
In this blog I decided to include both the partially blown up photos to show the item in Venable’s hand, plus the original photo so you can download and blow it up in any shape or form for yourself to show that this item was bigger and more pronounced than the smaller white edged laminated sheet. It seemed that Venable might have been using a P D A or I-phone, or some other form of electronic items while he was camped in Rightfield at Tropicana Field. It shocked me at first, but then I realized that maybe it might be permissible during this type of series since the Rays and Padres would play only this small 3-game series, then maybe not see each other for another 6-8 years, unless it is in the World Series.
Fran Fusco, who has a long history of baseball in their family blood (she is the sister of ex-Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman) first alerted me to the situation on Wednesday night before the game. A few other Rays fans in the stands also gave their vocal interpretations to the events of the previous night, so I decided to try and find out for myself, see if this is really happening, or was just a mirage caused by the reflective lights of the Trop. hitting the paper at a weird angle. Wish I could say it was all a figment of our collective imaginations, but it was as real as Carlos Pena hitting an opposite field Home Run, or Matt Garza’s goatee.
So after the game I showed the pictures to a member of the Rays Radio Network, and he asked me to forward the photos to him for further examination. He also asked me not to bring attention the knowledge of these photos for a day, which I was more than happy to oblige since I had not been able to blow them up properly while sitting in the seating bowl. But when I did blow up two of the photos later that night at home, there was a distinctive difference in the shapes and sizes of the two items in question…The plot thickened immediately.
I especially paid close attention to Venable’s left back pants pocket that was showed a huge change in the shape of his right pocket, which had a pair of batting gloves sticking out of them. The rectangular shape could have been a tri-folded laminated card, but there was also a dim light source that could not be formed by the lighting pattern within Tropicana Field, so the mystery got thicker and thicker for me. I kind of half paid attention, but still got some good shots of the pocket, and Venable taking either item out to glance at it between innings, or during pitching changes that night.
Venable was definitely using the chart or device to gain an advantage or educate himself on the Rays tendencies during that contest. I first noticed him looking at the chart/device during Rays D H Hank Blalock’s plate appearance, then during pitching changes of two Padres relievers, Rick Webb and Mike Adams. Venable was so nonchalant about the items in his left rear pocket that it really did not alarm me that night. But after the game the Rays front office member I sent the photos to, plus the urgency of that transfer told me I might have stumbled on something here.
I got a rumor floated to me that Venable had told a few members of the Rays that it ” was a laminated card”, which in a few of the photos it definitely looked like just that, but a few of the other photos, there was a darker item that was thicker and more like a portable device than a simple one-ply piece of paper with lamination on it. I had heard through the Rays grapevine before Thursday afternoon’s game that three other Rays fans had reported the event, plus one writing a letter to the National League President Frank Robinson about the episode. So with so many people now showing extreme attention to this set of events, I carefully studied and watched Venable with extreme precision on Thursday.
Sixteen times in Thursdays match-up Venable went to his back pocket in plain sight of everyone in the stands, to check his card. This time he made it clear and evident to everyone that it was indeed a card and not anything else. He even did it at multiple angles to give any camera now trained on him an exclusive look and possible angle to show he was in compliance during that game. It was also during Thursdays contest that I also saw Gywnn bring out his card during a break in the action. The Padres had definitely heard someone was watching them, and they played the game to the fullest.
And it is alarming to me that this kind of event could be going on at other games and venues right now. I can understand using these kind of devices in the clubhouse, or even the dugout to inform and help players adjust accordingly for games. But if this technology creeps into the fabric of the game during play in the field, that is where I personally draw a line in the clay. There are Coaches on either bench who can adjust or even sway a defensive alignment with a hand gesture, and there are charts that can be reviewed between innings to help guide a impromptu adjustment. But electronic devices need to stay outside the lines.
There are already too many calls for reviews, electronic strike zones to complicate the game instead of simplify it. If there is an Electronic Era evolving around the game as I predict, hopefully we can keep it off the field and in the dark where it belongs. Not darkness to not acknowledge its existence, but darkness to keep prying eyes way from vital information that each team collects and administers at the right moment. One of the reason kids take up the game of baseball is not for the team building skills but for the simplicity of the game. Throw the ball, hit the ball, run to the base.
If this violation is found to warrant further review it will not change the outcome of the Rays two losses during this series, but it could be an indication that some people are seeing loopholes in the system. Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey came over before Thursdays contest and asked me what I had seen the night before. I immediately let him know I transferred photos to a Rays team official, and that the photos were now also in the Rays hands to do what they will with them.
I am not out to get someone in trouble, suspended or even fined for something that happened during that Rays versus Padres series. But I want fairness to be achieved. I want the Rays to know that nothing is going on that gives another team an advantage. I learned as a young kid that “cheaters never prosper.” Hopefully that old quote also applies to the MLB too.