“Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” – John (“Jack”) Swigert
NEW YORK, NY – The above quote is the actual representation of the oft-used historic phrase used in the Apollo 13 mission for NASA. Jim Lovell, when asked to repeat what Swigert had just said by Ground Control, said “Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.” That is closer to the Hollywood version. The iteration doesn’t matter, however, it’s the point. And the point is not the Birthday Boy Different Matt missed his assignment today. No, instead it’s that there seems to another problem for Houston. It was accurate then and it’s accurate again today, as per MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred’s looming/impending punishment re the “sign stealing” Astros. Holy Ralph Branca, Batman! Stealing signs is older than dirt, which makes for today’s headline: Sign Stealing: How Much Does It Matter?
HITTING A BASEBALL
How many of you out there actually appreciate how difficult the act of hitting a baseball is? It’s hard. As a lifer that still plays in a wooden bat, 18+ and older, hardball league, I know this first hand. The Harlem Shaskys are about to embark on year 27. Yours truly is the Connie Mack of the team; Owner, Manager, Player. Over the course of this illustrious career, I’ve cheated as much as possible. In fact, I teach younger players how to cheat as I was taught to cheat. When pitching, I stand 6 inches in front of the rubber until/if I get caught and then play dumb. That adds a least 4 MPH to my 60 MPH heaters. I’ve had corked bats ordered off the internet. Yes, there are sites for those. And guess what? As a team we collectively try our darnedest to steal the other teams signs, often getting too caught up in the scheme and not properly focusing on the extremely difficult task of hitting the [flocking] ball.
Objectively speaking, I’m a decent player. I can throw strikes, lay down a bunt, steal a base and get a good AB in. I get up in the box and feel comfortable near a mound. [Ahem]. Over the course of 26 seasons of 20 games per, I’ve accumulated a whopping total of 4 home runs. You know why? Because hitting a home run is [flocking] hard. Terrifically hard. Getting a base hit is hard. Hitting the ball well for an out is hard! Tell me what’s coming and I’ll do everything right… and still line-out, ground out or hit a fly ball.
NOW MULTIPLY THAT DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY BY A ZILLION.
Major League Baseball players are phenomenal. They are freaks of nature. The level of play is something 99% of mortals cannot fathom. If yours truly fouled one pitch off from the worst pitcher in MLB, I’d consider that bragging rights material.
Becoming a starting pitcher in professional baseball means that you are considerably difficult to hit. More so than anyone you know outside of pro ball. You are someone that makes a game built on failure even more difficult for the offense. Ironically you’re as rare as an ASTROnaut. (See what I did there?) As for the offense – aka the hitters (who ironically don’t control the ball) – they are looking for EVERY SINGLE ADVANTAGE. Does his left eyebrow raise when he’s throwing a circle-change? Does he spit chew to the mound when he’s using a splitter grip? Is it catcher’s third sign or the one after he hits he left shinguard? It’s all under a microscope. Always has been. Always will be.
IT’S LIKE DEFLATE GATE
The absurdity of this “scandal” of sign stealing is right up there with “Deflate Gate.” As someone actively involved in “sport,” there’s one simple point everybody seems to be ignoring; there’s another team of professionals playing against the cheaters. ARE THEY IN A COLLECTIVE COMA? No. For Patriots opponents, their defense touched the ball often throughout the games. No defensive back walked up to an official with an incomplete or intercepted pass and said, “Hey, Tom’s balls are too soft!” Nor did the officials that were handling Brady’s balls. Meanwhile in baseball, all a player has to do really is tune in to Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Gary Cohen and they’ll tell you the pitch that’s coming. Broadcast booths across our fine nation are PAID TO STEAL SIGNS.
STILL HAVE TO HIT THE [FLOCKING] THING
Robby Thompson is the last guy to hit a pennant-winning home run after stealing a sign. Nobody has hit a World Series-winning homer after reading the catcher’s fingers to date. No Dinger Finger here, folks. Again, you still have to hit the ball, an extremely difficult feat, with flashbulbs going off and people screaming things about your mother. It ain’t golf.
Sure, Rob Manfred’s anger is understandable. You’d be angry, too, if you had to read 75,000+ emails. But Commissioner Manfred and everybody else needs to stop whining. Let the teams police themselves and… START CHEATING BETTER. Do you think for a second Babe Ruth or Bob Gibson would scold you for sign-stealing technology? Hell no. Gibson would simply drill you in the chin. That’s how you channel anger and deal with cheaters.
Speaking of channels, tune back in here tomorrow for Different Matt, who is spending the rest of today bathing in Bloody Marys.