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After the Philadelphia Athletics defeated the New York Giants in the World Series of 1911, rumors began to appear in the press that the world champions had cheated by stealing signs from their opponents. Whispers of this behavior had started after the Athletics had beaten the Chicago Cubs in the 1910 World Series. Connie Mack, manager of the Athletics, felt compelled to defend the integrity of his team and issued the following statement:

“I usually make it a practice to pay no attention to baseball sayings in print, but there’s just one comment that has so far gone uncontradicted and I want to drive a spike through it. It is that we are in the habit of stealing the signs used by rival teams. Persons who know baseball as it really is, do not take stock in such yarns, but others naturally believe them and these are the fellows I want to reach.

“It is absolutely impossible for a man on the coaching line to detect the sign for a certain kind of ball given by the pitcher or catcher and, at the same instant, get word to the batsman in time to wise him up. I know that we have received credit for doing this lightning trick, but we are not entitled to it for we know it can’t be done. If we attempted any such scheme, the chances are we would confuse our batsmen so that they couldn’t hit at all. The batsman cannot watch the coacher, the pitcher and the base runner at the same time, so that anybody can see how utterly absurd the statement is.”

Connie Mack, well respected throughout baseball, seemingly had set the record straight and talk of his team cheating began to wane. This point of view lasted until the spring of 1918 when Harry Davis, veteran Athletics first baseman on the 1910 and 1911 championship teams, made what was styled a “complete confession.” Harry, who had retired from baseball after his election to Philadelphia’s city council in 1917, finally felt he could come clean.

According to Harry Davis, “We didn’t start to steal signs of the opposing team in 1910. That’s all wrong. We started to get the enemy’s signals as early as in 1902.” He continued, “You know, it was the easiest thing in the world to get the signs of the enemy back in those days. All the signaling to the pitchers by the catchers in those days was one finger for a curve and two for a fast ball. And to get these signs you didn’t need to hire a hall in center field and use a pair of field glasses. All that was necessary was to keep your eyes wide open as you stood in the coacher’s box at third or first base.”

Harry went on to explain the benefits of sign stealing: “Tell a batter beforehand whether it is a fast one or curve ball coming to him and nine times out of ten he will knock the old cover off the ball. Well, we did that in the old days and I reckon from the size of our batting averages we got results from it. No, that’s not stealing, it’s merely outguessing the enemy. At least that’s how we always figured it when we copped signs.”

There was another easy way to steal signs: “When the catcher hid his signs so that only the pitcher could see them, we made it a practice to get a batter on first base and move him to second, from where he could get the sign and flash it back to the hitter at the plate. There were very few signals flashed by the catcher which cannot be seen by either the man on second base or the coacher at first or third.”

Harry Davis completed his exposé by assuring the baseball public that nothing really had changed: “To be sure, they still are stealing signs in baseball, but it now is more difficult to solve the code than in the old days.”


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In response to the Houston Astros scandal, I will soon be posting a series of stories entitled: America’s “Favorite” Pastime—Cheating at Baseball.


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