The baseball world, over the last four days, has been focused on Toronto, and the allegations of sign stealing to which Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating gave voice and credibility in their ESPN the Magazine article. By now, you’ve undoubtedly read it, and developed an opinion, and given that I assume most of you are from the great white north, I imagine the vast majority of you are angry, or at least annoyed, that Canadian honor has been impugned. That certainly has been the impression I have been getting from the various comment sections I’ve looked at. And those feelings, regardless of the evidence that’s being presented, are unlikely to change.
Not that they should, mind you. In my mind, Nelson and Keating take a very limited set of data (home-run rate on contact) and four anonymous eye-witness accounts, and spin a narrative that flies in the face of other data and of Occam’s Razor. Their arguments (such as they are; they actually end the article simply saying every pitch in Rogers Centre “is worth watching,” a disappointing cop out) are not convincing in the least. This does not mean that Nelson and Keating are wrong, mind you. It’s certainly possible the Jays have worked out a sign-stealing system. It’s also possible that there is a mysterious “man in white” helping them. It’s also possible that there is another, completely separate system in place designed to improve the Jays’ hitting. And, finally, it’s also possible that there’s no there there. Nothing beyond paranoia and resentment of opposing pitchers to being constantly shown up.
And unless a Jay or former Jay steps forward, that’s likely all we’re going to know about this controversy, it will be forever consigned to the dustbin of other hackneyed, obnoxious, eye-rolling conspiracies. Which brings us to our weekly simile session. Everyone, don’t forget your tinfoil hats.
Opposing pitchers are like JFK.
Because the Jays are straight up murdering them at home, yo. This year, the Jays have hit .260/.325/.441 at home versus .249/.312/.389 on the road, and are scoring 4.91 runs at the Rogers Centre, compared to 4.37 in the U.S. This is an even larger split from last year, when they scored 4.86 runs at home versus 4.45 on the road. Obviously, this makes the Blue Jays like Lee Harvey Oswald.
Joe Girardi is like Jim Garrison
Garrison is the New Orleans district attorney who brought the only legal charges in the JFK assassination, accusing industrialist Clay Shaw of being part of conspiracy to murder the President. Shaw was acquitted by a jury that was out for less than an hour. Still, Garrison is a hero to many today for his dogged pursuit of the conspirators, at great professional and allegedly personal risk. Garrison didn’t create the theories to which he eventually lent credibility, but he did get them on the record.
Similarly, Joe Girardi wasn’t the first to suspect something was up in “Spydome.” There have been rumors about the Jays stealing signs going back to their World Series winning squads in 1992 and 1993. Since then, there were whispers that something was up, though no one knew exactly what the deal was. But in speaking out about the possibility, and actively working to limit the damage a sign-stealer could cause by switching up his signs, Girardi popularized the notion that the Jays were cheating, inspiring both the Red and White Sox to take action.
Steal of Home is like the Zapruder Film
The Zapruder Film is the famous home movie of the Kennedy Assassination. Due to the technology of the time, of course, it’s not a completely clear image, and doesn’t provide sound. It’s not perfect, but it’s a remarkable piece of evidence that documents a seminal moment in American history. The trouble is that the film is often used as “evidence” by conspiracy theorists to corroborate theories that may or may not be actually supported by the events depicted in the film. For years, all the public could get were bootleg copies of the original, each more degraded than the last. To the point where there are questions about the authenticity of any claims associated with the film.
Thanks to Steal of Home, we also have evidence of the man in white. Or a man in white. Or many men in white. It depends on your point of view, I guess. SoH has identified the game in question where the White Sox would have publicly called out Jose Bautista, and threatened to knock him down if the alleged sign-stealing continued. They’ve also uncovered a shot of centerfield that showed three people in white shirts. Is one of them the man in white? None of them? Does he even exist outside of the furtive imagination of paranoid relief pitchers? Unfortunately, the SoH screengrabs tell us none of that. Still, Keith Law, on his Thursday Baseball Today podcast, praises the SoH team for tracking down the man in white, lending credibility to the allegations published by Nelson and Keating. But again, the evidence SoH uncovers is simply that there were people sitting in centerfield, wearing white t-shirts. Shocking!
Nelson and Keating are like Oliver Stone.
Stone’s famous retelling of the JFK assassination posited that Vice President Lyndon Johnson conspired with industrialists, the mafia, the CIA, and the FBI to have the President killed because he was tough on the mob and was supposedly going to pull out of the Vietnam War. But Stone’s movie is not designed specifically to be factual. Stone had decided to counter the “fictional myth” of the Warren Commission (which investigated the Kennedy assassination and concluded that Oswald acted alone) with a myth of his own. So, in the interest of ramping up the drama and actually making a movie, rather than a documentary, Stone plays it fast and loose with the facts. Here’s a good place to start with the inaccuracies in Stone’s film. And rather than picking one conspiracy theory, Stone decides to argue for all of them, building a conspiracy and cover-up so large and complex it could not possibly be kept secret, nor properly coordinated.
Similarly, Nelson and Keating ignore (or don’t investigate) evidence that would seem to contradict their theories. Yes, the Jays score better at home than they do on the road. But do you know who else scores better at Rogers Centre? The Jays’ opponents. As I laid out on Thursday, Jays opponents have seen their runs per game jump from 4.17 in their own ballparks to 5.09 in Rogers Centre. This is way up from last year, when they saw a jump of only 0.13 runs. So, while the Jays do see an improvement, their opponents benefit even more from being in Rogers Centre. Do they bring their own sign stealers, or do they borrow Toronto’s?
None of which necessarily disproves the notion that Nelson and Keating are pushing. Indeed, Oswald may not have acted alone. It certainly seems suspicious. And so do all those Jays homers. But the scenario they lay out, based on the evidence that they use, simply does not pass the smell test. After all, there are far more reasonable notions to explain Toronto’s 3.3% HR rate at “Spydome” in 2011, rather than 2.4% they hit on the road. A jet stream, perhaps. Or exceedingly dry air. Or rabbit-baseballs. Or space aliens. Or the apparent reversal of “E” and “R” in “Rogers Centre” (are you guys even speaking English?). Something that could explain how the Jays aren’t the only team to benefit offensively from their stays at the Rogers Centre.