Baseball Rocked Again! Let’s Revisit Cheating at the Baker Bowl, 1900!

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Baker Bowl, League Park, and the 1900 Cheating Scandal Photo Gallery

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Baseball Rocked Again!

“That’s not playing the game the right way… I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing what’s coming.” -Mike Fiers, on his reasons for exposing the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme

How little has changed in over 100 years! In the featured photo above, we see an early photo from a game played at the Baker Bowl, scene of an electronic sign-stealing scandal in 1900. Read on for the details…

 

As someone who has written extensively about the Black Sox scandal, I never thought I’d see a cheating scandal that had the potential to rock the game to its core again, as occurred in 1919. But I think it may have happened.

As we’re now all aware, former Astros’ pitcher Mike Fiers, now with the Oakland A’s, “spilled the beans” on the Astros’ elaborate scheme to steal signs during the 2017 season. They used a TV monitor to capture the signs and then conveyed the information to the dugout by banging on a trash can. Fiers told his story to reporters Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal and they broke it in The Athletic. The scandal has already resulted in severe sanctions against the Astros and claimed the jobs of three managers and one general manager.

How far will the tentacles of this cheating scandal reach?  I’d guess it has the potential to go much further. Now comes word that former White Sox pitcher Jack McDowell recently unloaded on Hall-of-Fame manager Tony LaRussa: 

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“We had a system in the old Comiskey Park in the late 1980s, the Gatorade sign out in center had a light. There was a toggle switch in the manager’s office and a camera zoomed in on the catcher. Tony LaRussa is the one who put it in. He was also the head of the first team (Oakland A’s) where everyone was doing steroids.”

Why did McDowell call out LaRussa: “I’m gonna whistle-blow this now because I’m getting tired of this crap. It’s just … this stuff is getting old where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook.”

Sort of reminds you of the steroid guys, doesn’t it? Where some guys are baseball pariahs, and others end up collecting huge checks in the media.

Speaking of which, the scandal might even spread into the broadcast booth. Jessica Mendosa of the Sunday Night Baseball crew is catching flack for saying Fiers’ exposure “doesn’t sit well with her,”  and “makes her sad for the sport.” Even though the sports’ integrity was compromised, what bothers Mendoza is Fiers breaking the story to reporters! Columnist Phil Rosenthal in the Chicago Tribune is calling on ESPN to “can” her, and even to blow up the entire Sunday night crew. In the current environment, is it ready a good idea to have an admitted steroid cheater, Alex Rodriguez, in the booth? 

One of the fired managers is Carlos Beltran. As an aside, last month I wrote about Phil Cavaretta getting the “pink slip” during spring training in 1954. Little did I know that Beltran would beat that record. Caught up in the scandal, he’s been given the “heave-ho” before spring training even begins…just two and a half months after he was hired!

Sign-stealing using electronic means is nothing new!

But let’s step back and take a look into baseball’s past. A couple years ago, the Yankees accused the Red Sox of using an Apple watch attempting to relay signs to their batters. The Red Sox filed a counterclaim accusing the Yankees of using a camera from its YES television network to steal signs, an assertion the Yankees denied.

Then, of course, there’s the charge Leo Durocher’s Giants in 1951 were stealing signs using an electric buzzer system in the Polo Grounds. Some contend it may have contributed to the Giants winning the pennant on Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard Round the World.” Whatever might have been going on, Thomsom denied he was tipped off on his historic home run. 

A little research into the “art of sign stealing” reveals that it is just about as old as the game itself. Let’s go back and take a look at an incident that occurred long ago, September 17, 1900, in a game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Cincinnati Reds. The scene was the Baker Bowl.

Tommy “the Cork” Corcoran exposes Phillies’ sign-stealing scheme. 

Prior to this particular game, everyone around the league had noticed that Phillies’ third-base coach, Pearce Chiles, had a rather obvious twitch in his leg. But the strange thing was that it only seemed to occur during home games at the Baker Bowl. On the road, his leg seemed to be fine.

Baseball Rocked Again! Let’s Revisit Cheating at the Baker Bowl, 1900! 25

Tommy Corcoran

Hmmm…

In the first game of a doubleheader, Reds’ shortstop Tommy Corcoran became suspicious that something was amiss with Chiles’ unusual “twitch.” He decided to take the matter into his own hands. Here’s what happened next:

“Corcoran scurried toward Chiles and started kicking at the ground, harder and harder, enough that the livid Phillies’ groundskeeper told him to stop. Corcoran didn’t, and eventually, he hit pay dirt: a wooden box. He pulled the top off it and found a mess of wires. His suspicions were dead-on: Someone in the stadium was stealing opponents’ signals and feeding them to Chiles through electrical pulses into the coaches’ box. One buzz for a fastball, two jolts for a curveball, three twitches for a changeup. Chiles then verbally fed the pitch to the batter.”

Phillies caught “Red-Handed” (Pun intended!)

It was later confirmed that an obscure Phillies catcher, Morgan Murphy, had positioned himself behind an outfield sign and had been using a telescope to steals signs. He then sent signals by wire to Chiles.

Aha! The Phillies had been caught “red” handed! Chiles and his bogus “twitch” had been exposed! Unlike today’s scandal, the league took no punitive measures against the Phillies.

Oh well. Cheating scandals are not new and I think the game will probably survive this one, although with a severely blackened eye. The game of baseball goes on, generation to generation…

Back to Mike Fiers. Is he a baseball “guardian” or just a “snitch”? Put me down on the former side. But I guess time will tell.