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August 10, 2011

Wezen-Ball

A (Stolen) Sign from Above

by Larry Granillo

On Wednesday, a report coming out of ESPN: The Magazine alleged that, through the 2010 season at least, the Toronto Blue Jays were stealing signs at home with the help of a "man in white":

A few of the players in the bullpen turned their backs to the field to fixate on the man in white, while others watched the stadium's radar gun. As soon as each pitch was thrown, those watching the man would call out what they thought he was signaling, and those focused on the radar gun would confirm his signal. Sure enough, the man in white was raising his arms above his head before every off-speed pitch and doing nothing when the pitch being called was a fastball.

The ESPN report fails to name their sources (though at least some people think it's the White Sox), leaving the "four sources in the bullpen" to level their accusations anonymously. The report also cites some vague statistical "circumstantial evidence" to go along with their claims. Shoot, even our very own Colin Wyers was mentioned in the report. As you might imagine, the debate over this news has raged throughout the baseball world since the allegations broke, arguing everything from the validity of the reports, both anecdotal and statistical, to the morality of the alleged offenses. Surprisingly, there is not much of a consensus on any of these points.

But sign-stealing isn't new - not even the "guy sits in the stands behind the pitcher and signals fastballs/breaking balls to the batter"-variety the Jays are being accused of. In fact, this whole saga reminds me of the time, in 1973, when Bernie Brewer was accused of stealing signs for the Brewers. That's right, Bernie Brewer.

This was the very original Bernie Brewer, a man in lederhosen and gloves who lived in a chalet and slid into a mug of beer whenever the Brewers hit a home run. Bernie at the time had an assistant, who sat in the Chalet with him and blew up and shot off balloons after a home run.

On Saturday, July 7, 1973, the Brewers beat the Rangers 17-2. On Sunday, they swept the doubleheader 6-4 and 7-3. During the games Sunday, Rangers manager Whitey Herzog noticed something fishy:

"Umpire Bill Haller ordered a man with binoculars out of the chalet and told mascot Bernie Brewer to take off his white gloves.

'I asked Jackie Moore, my first base coach, to keep an eye up there because he had a better angle and he thought he saw a guy up there with binoculars,' Herzog said. 'I couldn't figure out why that other guy had no white gloves on when we bat but put them on when they came to bat. Then he'd clap like hell every time we called for a breaking pitch. He called the right pitch six times in a row.'"

The Brewers, of course, denied it:

"'The second man is up there merely to blow up the balloons and make sure that they go out properly,' [Andy Perry, assistant to the director of Stadium operation] said. 'He's not up there all the time, and he doesn't use binoculars.

'As for the white gloves, it is part of Bernie's uniform, and he needs them to go down that 40 foot slide. Sure, he takes them off when the Rangers are batting. He doesn't need to wear them then.'"

The binoculars would be the deal-breaker here. If Herzog was right and there were binoculars up there, then something was almost definitely happening that weekend. Nothing was found, though, and so the mystery will remain forever. It's okay, though. As the ESPN report shows us, accusations of sign-stealing will always be around to entertain us, whether they be from mascots in lederhosen and white gloves or just men in white shirts sitting in the centerfield bleachers at the Rogers Centre. Of course, they'd be more interesting if every accusation included shenanigans and/or malfeasance from the team mascot. Is it wrong to hope for that?

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