31
Oct 19

THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD

         “The Giants Win the Pennant"

         "The Giants Win the Pennant”

This was one of the most legendary moments in baseball history.  And Sign Stealing was a supporting actor.    

It's 1951.  Yes, Millennials,  there was baseball 68 years ago.  Really.  On August 11 the New York Giants trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by 13 and a half games.  No point in even playing the rest of the schedule. 

But Giants manager Leo Durocher was as feisty as an otter.  His vocabulary did not include the word Quit.

So the Giants just kept on Keeping On.  And those 13 and a half inexorably disappeared like snowflakes landing on a hot plate.  The Giants won 37 of their last 44 games and, by the end of September, they were all tied up.  The National League pennant would be decided by a two-out-of-three playoff.

They split the first two games, which set-up the dramatic finale at the Polo Grounds on October 3.  This was the first game ever telecast  nationally but TV sets were as rare as flying saucers.  These were Radio Days and most every baseball fan on the continent was tuned in.

Image result for Free pictures of Bobby Thomson"

Bottom of the ninth.  Dodgers ahead 4-2 with one out.  But the Giants had runners on second and third.  It’s 3:58 p.m. (We bring you all the news)

Bobby Thomson, the Flying Scotsman himself, in the box.  Righthander Ralph Branca gets a called strike on the inside corner.  Then he goes up and in with his best heater, a purpose pitch to set-up a breaking ball away.  Which he never gets a chance to throw.

Thomson turns on the fastball, pulls his hands in…and hammers a low line drive that carries…and carries…and carries.  All over North America there is a vacuum as millions hold their breath.

And it carries.  There’s a short porch down the left field line at the Polo Grounds and Thomson’s shot smashes into the seats only a few feet over the fence and barely fair.

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Giants play-by-play radio guy Russ Hodges goes bananas.  “There's a long drive ... it's gonna be, I believe ... The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits it into the left-field stands and they're going crazy! They’re picking Thomson up and carrying him off the field!
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          Do You Believe in Miracles?

It’s the most legendary call in baseball history, right up there with Al Michaels and hockey’s “Do you believe in Miracles?”

And do you believe in Stealing Signs?  For decades the Giants avoided those heinous words but in 2001 they finally admitted they were picking up the Brooklyn signals like a Beijing Hacker.

“Everybody was stealing signs,” admitted Giants coach Herman Franks, who was their Chief Architect in Charge of Pilfering.

Franks sat in the Giants centerfield clubhouse armed with military binoculars, relaying the Dodgers signals with a buzzer connected to the dugout and the bull pen.  One buzz for a fastball, two for something off speed.  And back-up catcher Sal Yvars tipped off the New York hitters.  In those days this wasn’t even illegal in the MLB.

“Every hitter knew what was coming," said pitcher Al Gettel.

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"I didn't want to diminish a legendary moment in baseball. Even if Bobby knew what was coming, he had to hit it.  Knowing the pitch doesn't always help."

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So did Thomson know what Branca was throwing?  This is where it gets as confusing as programming a computer.  “It’s out in the open,” Thomson said.  But…

On the one hand, Yvars said he relayed Rube Walker's fastball sign.  But Thomson insisted he was so focussed he didn’t pay any attention to the sign stealing.  And he didn’t know what was coming.

But…then again.  “This comes out now and maybe it will take away the pressure Ralph has felt all these years,” Thomson adds.

Okay.  He knew. He didn’t know.  Take your pick.

Related image

You probably didn't know this but colour didn't exist in 1951.
The world was all black and white.

Was Branca royally pissed?  Probably, but he showed the class of a true champion.  "I made a decision not to speak about it,” he said, later. “I didn't want to look like I was crying over spilled milk and I didn't want to diminish a legendary moment in baseball. Even if Bobby knew what was coming, he had to hit it.  Knowing the pitch doesn't always help."

Yvars said the Giants were a sign-stealing monster.  “We were getting the signs in the Polo Grounds.  But we were also stealing signs on the road. No one writes about that.  We were thinking all the time.”

Sign Stealing.  About as new as those revolutionary machines they call cars.

 

“YOU BETTER STOP OR SOMEONE’S GONNA GET HURT”

        Those Damn Cheatin’ Astros

The Astros are at it again.  For years now they’ve been accused of using nefarious ploys to steal signs.

The latest testimony reared its ugly head in The Athletic when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers blew the whistle so loud it rocked the city of Houston into the Gulf of Mexico.  Fox News thought it was another attack on their beloved president.

I’m sure you’ve read about it already.  Basically Fiers and a couple of his buds warned the rest of the MLB the Astros had a camera in centerfield sending a feed to their dugout. 

At which point some evil, unwashed, atheist slime would bang on a trash can when the catcher called for a breaking ball.  Sort of Bang a Gong, Bang a Gong, Get it On.  My apologies to T.Rex.  I just couldn’t resist.

St Louis Art Print featuring the mixed media Bob Gibson, 1964 Game 7 Series Mvp by Thomas Pollart

            Gibson, who competed like a Roman Gladiatior

Now you might ask why they’d need their own camera when all they have to do is watch the MLB telecast.  But that feed is often delayed anywhere from seven to 30 seconds.

Fiers had back-up from former White Sox hurler Danny Farquhar.

“There was a banging from the dugout every time I threw a change-up,” Farquhar said.  “I was throwing some really good changeups and they were getting fouled off. After the third one I stepped off.”  They changed the signals and that incessant clamour suddenly stopped.  Enough said.

This is old hat to the Astros, who have  been accused of spying for years.  Players insist the ‘Stros always seem to know what’s coming.

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I don’t think it’s any secret they do it,’’ one source charges.  “We’ve heard they have cameras around the park and they pass the signs to their bull pen.  Just look at their home record.’’
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Stealing signs, of course, is a baseball tradition.  But most of the time it’s been perfectly legal and above board.  On the other hand, TV feeds are not a felony—but they are as vile and against the rules as Corked Bats and Greasers.  Hmmm, that’s another story.

Two years ago the Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch to spy on the Yankees at Fenway.  They were fined, which is like giving a jaywalking ticket to Tony Soprano.

Sometimes stealing signs works.  And sometimes it’s a recipe for sitting on the seat of your pants in the batter’s box.

In this case the Red Sox were getting the signals relayed electronically to a trainer who passed it along to a player on the bench, who then let the hitter know, probably with a verbal signal.  Which is about as complicated as filling out your tax return.  You have to give them credit for speed reading.

T. rex hunted live prey but wouldn’t pass up a free meal if it sniffed one out

              Bang a Gong, Get It On.  (You have to keep up)

This CIA subterfuge is reminiscent of the 1980’s Chicago White Sox who had a 25-watt refrigerator bulb imbedded in the Comiskey Park scoreboard, directly in line with the hitter’s vision.  An 007 sat in the clubhouse watching the telecast, fingering a toggle switch.  When the catcher put down two fingers, he’d flip the switch and the bulb would light up.  Apparently, TV was so naive in those days there was no delay.

There are, of course, repercussions.

Tim McCarver, the erudite former Cardinals catcher, has some great stories about Bob Gibson, who was as competitive as a Roman Gladiator battling to avoid being introduced to a hungry tiger.  To call Gibson tough would be like saying Bill Gates has a few bucks.

McCarver ambled out to the mound once to deliver some advice.  “Get back behind the plate,” Gibson said.  “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.”

Most sign stealing comes from a runner on second base, which is as legal as walking your dog, but can also be dangerous, especially with Gibson on the hill.  He was not only renowned for his vicious slider and a heater in the mid to upper 90’s but he also loved to come inside.  “The hitter can only have one side of the plate,” Gibson said.

McCarver remembers when a runner on second was relaying pitches.  Gibson noticed.  He turned to the runner and said, “You better stop that.  Or someone is going to get hurt.”  Needless to say, the hitter, about to vomit,  implored the runner to cease and desist.

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"If we thought hitters were getting signs relayed from second base we’d call a breaking ball, and then I'd throw a fastball up and in. That stopped it right then. It was over. They were done."
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So how does the runner relay pitches?  Paul Molitor was an expert.  He’d tap his helmet or knee.  Some guys will rub their hand across their chest for a fastball or their thigh for a curveball.  To indicate location you lean on either foot or reach out with your arm.

Obviously, the catcher is flashing multiple signals with a runner on second and it’s hieroglyphics to most fans.  Usually the first or second sign is live.

But they might also use the first signal as the indicator.  When the catcher puts down three fingers it means the third signal is live.  So if he follows the indicator by flashing one finger, then three, then two, and finally four, the pitch is a curveball.

The catcher can also use his uniform as the indicator.  For instance, tapping the chest protector means the second signal is live, touching the knee says it’s the third.  Or where he touches his uniform actually calls the pitch and what he does with his fingers is as meaningless as what he ate for breakfast.  Whoa.  Is that clandestine enough?

              "What if he's wrong?"

There is one very violent way of putting an end to all this sign stealing nonsense.  A reversal.

If the catcher touches his mask it means you throw the opposite of what he calls.  He then flashes a set of signals, calling for a curveball down and away.  Which reverses into a fastball up and in.  And the hitter, who has been tipped by the runner, is leaning over the plate expecting a breaking ball.

When he either gets nailed by the high heat or winds up eating dirt, he will never trust a relayed signal again.

That’s exactly what happened to Blue Jays slugger George Bell when he acted on a tip from the runner.  Bell dove in over the plate, expecting a breaking ball, and was drilled in the head by a fastball.  Suffice it to say, George ignored base runners from then on.

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"If you do that again, I'll hit you in the side of the head.  I threw the next pitch right down the middle and he took it for strike three."
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In fact, a lot of hitters don’t want anyone giving them signals.  That included Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn.  "What if he's wrong?'' Gwynn asked.

I think guys like Gibson actually welcome a runner stealing signs.  It gives them free rein to retaliate because no one can logically complain.  This was underlined by Goose Gossage, who had a sizzling fastball with life and a slider that was so filthy it showered three times a day.

"If we thought hitters were getting signs relayed from second base,” Gossage said, “we’d call a breaking ball, and then I'd throw a fastball up and in. That stopped it right then. It was over. They were done."

Image result for Free pictures of Goose Gossage

                                                 The Goose

Some hitters have actually been know to take a peak at the catcher’s signals.   Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, whose curveball broke like a U-turn, said, "That's a no-no. I don't think too many players peek back at the catcher.  There's going to be repercussions.”

Orioles ace Jim Palmer remembers the time Jim Spencer, who was a friend of his, was sneaking a look at the fingers of catcher Rick Dempsey.  “I walked off the mound and said, 'If you do that again, I'll hit you in the side of the head.' I threw the next pitch right down the middle and he took it for strike three."

So the Astros are stealing signs electronically and that’s forbidden.  But I’m pretty sure it’s not unique.  And, in this era of smartphones and technology that never sleeps, I’m also sure baseball teams will find ingenious ways to pick a catcher’s pocket.

Chips imbedded in a player’s head that read the movement of the fingers?  A sensor in your back pocket that tickles your butt?  Alien space lasers that buzz your brain?  Martian UFO’s betting on the World Series and looking for an edge?

The possibilities are endless.  And the Astros will be first in line.

31
Oct 19

I really enjoy writing this epic blog.  And I truly appreciate all my faithful readers.  

But it takes a lot of hours and effort.  So it's time for you to step up, whatever that means. Time to pay a drizzle of $ respect.

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KYLE CHALMERS and JEFF FOUNTAIN--Thanks, guys.  All the best.

 

"Gimme the beat boys to free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away"

 

                             Dave Empey

Dave Empey has developed five major league
players, including Yankees ace James Paxton
and 
Ryan Dempster, who dominated the hill
for 16 MLB seasons, was an all-star twice, and  
won a World Series ring with the Red Sox. 

Plus reliever Rowan Wick, the Rookie of the
Year for the Chicago Cubs, who is expected
to be their closer next season. 

Dave has coached 21 pro players,
including 11 pitchers and 10 hitters.

He's placed a dozen athletes on the
Canadian national junior team and
over 
100 into college programs.    

As a sports writer with the Vancouver Sun
Dave interviewed home run king Roger Maris,
iconic heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano,
legendary sprinter Jesse Owens, Hall of Fame
pitcher Bob Lemon, classic daredevil Evel
Knievel, and NHL hard rock Tiger Williams.

Dave has covered almost ever sport you can
name, including baseball, football, basketball,
soccer, hockey, horse racing, lacrosse, boxing,
hang gliding, swimming, figure skating, rugby,
track and field, tennis, curling, and skiing.

In Kelowna he sat next to Billy Schumacher,
the greatest hydroplane driver of all time, as
they blistered through three laps at 150 mph.
 "That ride with Billy was a lot of fun," he says.  

Dave also managed and produced an album for
the rock band Paul Anthony and The Invasion.

Contact--daveempey@shaw.ca

Ryan and Dave in Las Vegas

 

2017-18 visitors--80,036

2019 visitors--33,930

 

TODAY’S LINEUP

NEW--"The Giants Win the Pennant"
NEW--Those Damn Cheatin' Astros
REDUX--Kawhi, They Hardly Knew You
THE NECTAR OF THE GODS
NEW--Great Wine, Gourmet Food, Endless Summer
PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
NEW--The Scourge of Tommy John Surgery

 

RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM
--Whatever Happened to Late Night TV?
The Moment the Astros Rolled Over and Quit

BUILDING A BETTER HITTER
--Michael Brantley and Iron Mike
Most Powerful (and Hated) Man in Baseball

DEVELOPING CATCHERS
--If You Can't Block, You Can't Catch
James Paxton is NOT Laid Back

The Goose and Lou Vomit All Over Baseball
Sorry, John Smoltz, But You Don't Have a Clue
The Bringer of Drizzle: 3 for 19
Shades of the 1919 Black Sox

PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--Mariano Rivera's Perfect Delivery

Rowan Wick, Cubs Rookie of the Year
Pitching in the Mariana Trench

PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--Warming Up is the Gold Standard
Rowan Wick's Best Inning Ever
Cora Sank the Sox in Spring Training

PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--Most MLB Coaches Don't Understand 

Trent Thornton's Leg Kick, I Kid You Not

Vlady, The Junior Versus The Panda
The Nightmare of Odie, the Boxador
$638,000 Just to Step on the Diamond
The Bringer of Drizzle Speaks Drivel

Boog, Eduardo and Sutt
The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived
The Tragic Destruction of Young Players
What the Hell is a Cutter/Slider?

The Utter Bull Shit of Moneyball
And the Beat Goes On
Just How Good is Joey Votto?

Mickey Mantle, the King of Jacks
Wick Stakes His Claim in Wrigley Ivy
The Saga of Nathan Patterson
How Baseball Eats Its Young
The Rock Star On Chicago's South Side
Michael Kopech Nails 110 mph

"Dave, I'm Going to The Show Today"
The Masters...or the Master Race?
The Grand Daddy of all Sports Hoaxes
My Buddy, Duke's Coach K
The Golden Age of Morneau and Dempster
The Pendulum Swings West
Jupiter's Win at Any Cost Jackasses

A Tale of Two Trades
The 800 Grand Party to End all Parties
Bring On the Sloth Triplets

The Insanity of Tommy John for 15-year-olds
Is Icing Good for a Pitcher's Arm?
What has Hockey got to do with this?
Koufax versus Kershaw
BASEBALL PUZZLE

"Just Play the Game"
The Spirit of Billy The Kid
One Bad Pitch
"The Players All Love Him"
Innocent Until Proven Guilty

The Lethal Weapon No One Uses
The Ineffable Ernest Hemingway
The Incompetence of MLB Coaches
Alabama and Ole Miss Never to be Found
The Bringer of Drizzle
Rowan Wick called up to the Padres
What is wrong with human beings?

The Dempster Slider
"I Gotta Go"
The Inane Babble of the Media
Rocky and the Nerds 

Killer Koepke and The Assassin

THE PITCHING PACKAGE (2)
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Developing COMMAND
Power Pitching
SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD
Protecting Your Arm

Stride
The Road to Velocity
LOAD--Lead with your Hip
Explode
Finish
Throw through the Catcher
The Curveball

"White Lightning" at 110 mph
Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet

THE PITCHING PACKAGE (1)
The Catch 22 of Relief Pitchers

Shadow Boxing Your Delivery
Balance Like a Gymnast
A Controlled Knee Raise
The Gold of Coil and Go
Lefthander's Pickoff Move
Stealing Against a Lefthander

Sidd Finch and his 168 mph Fastball

Much, Much, Much More in the Archives
And all Great Stories
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