Somewhat lost in all the attention given to the Hamels/Harper craziness from the weekend was that on Saturday night, we saw a new record: when Jamie Moyer accused Chipper Jones of stealing signs amidst the Braves’ big comeback against Moyer and the Rockies, it was the oldest combined age between two active players (89 years and roughly 180 days) in the entire proud history of baseball’s pissing contests.
I mean, it probably was. Don’t you think? Has to be.
What happened was this: the Rockies staked Moyer to a 6-0 lead after two innings, and it stood at 6-1 in the fifth, when Jones doubled off of Moyer to drive home pitcher Mike Minor and make it 6-2. At some point over the next two plate appearances, Jones, who turned 40 two weeks ago, and Moyer, who turned 40 during the Hoover administration, got into a bit of a spat, apparently instigated by Moyer, in which (we learned later, through Jones) Jamie accused Chipper of attempting to steal the catcher’s signs.
Brian McCann singled home Chipper to make it 6-3. An inning later, down 8-3, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward opened up the inning with back-to-back long home runs off of Moyer, whose night ended one batter later, and the Braves went on to win 13-9.
After the game, Jones was tired and cranky. Moyer, he said, “woke a sleeping giant tonight. He started chirping and it went all downhill from there.” Jones was very upset that Moyer had “question[ed the Braves'] integrity,” and asserted that his so questioning was what motivated the Braves to score a bunch of runs and complete the comeback.
It’s all pretty funny, the oldest pitcher and oldest every-day player in the NL snipping at each other like stereotypical high school girls. And I’d really like to know more about what really happened with this story; it doesn’t look like anyone has been able to get a quote from Moyer about it (though Chipper did later report that Troy Tulowitzki had told him that “Moyer’s signs were so complicated it’d take NASA to decipher them anyway”).
Was there sign stealing going on? What did Moyer see that convinced him there was? I’d like to know these things. I watched the entire inning in MLB.TV’s archives, and at least on the Braves’ telecast, nothing stuck out as an obvious signal from Chipper to McCann, and I saw no sign that McCann looked out at Chipper at all anyway.
But there is a definite and easily identifiable moment when Moyer thinks he sees something — making his usual check of the runner before delivering the pitch, Moyer does a double take, then steps off and mouths something angrily at Chipper. It’s kind of amazing to me, actually, that I can’t find anyone who’s been able to ask Moyer about the whole situation yet.
But while it’s all interesting in a human-interest-story sort of way, my real question is this: who the hell cares?
I’m confused as to why Moyer was so (apparently) offended by what he saw as sign-stealing, and I’m even more confused as to why Jones was so offended by the accusation. There’s a reason pitchers and catchers have signs, and it’s not an aesthetic one.
So I assume Moyer would say that “don’t steal signs” is one of those inviolable unwritten rules baseball has (see also Bradenia), and I have no doubt that many other pitchers would agree, because the beauty of unwritten rules is that they’re unwritten, so you can make them up precisely as they suit you. But here, the idea of that kind of rule simply defeats itself — if there’s a rule against stealing signs, the signs themselves are utterly pointless.
When they’re warming up before a game or an inning, pitchers will push their glove at the catcher to indicate a fastball is coming, or kind of drop their glove outwardly to indicate a breaking ball, and there’s no reason catchers couldn’t just do basically the same thing if not for a fear of sign stealing.
On the contrary, though, not only does a battery have a complicated set of signs for every pitch, but they usually adopt an entirely different set of signs with a runner on second, in fear of exactly the situation that (Moyer thinks) developed here. As Tulo (reportedly) noted, Moyer’s own set of signs is remarkably complex, for no other reason that he knows that if they’re too obvious, hitters and runners will be stealing them like crazy. Why would you get angry that (you believe) the other team is doing exactly the thing that you’ve spent time designing signs because you knew they were going to do? It makes no sense at all.
And if you’re Chipper Jones, why get angry? How has he questioned your integrity? Why isn’t the answer either “yeah, I stole signs,” or “no, I didn’t steal signs, but if he’s worried I was, he should get better signs”?
As a runner, if you can steal signs and relay them to a hitter, I think you have a duty to do it unless you know the hitter would rather not have them. That, again, is bound up in the whole purpose of signs. If you can’t steal them, there’s really no point in having them. It’s different when you start employing spies and technology and other off-the-field stuff (and I talked to one guy who thinks that is tantamount to murder), but if the players on the field can take signs and will be helped by doing so, I can’t think of any reason not to do it — and “integrity” certainly isn’t one.
So I love Jamie Moyer. I really do. I hope he pitches forever, and I think he can basically do no wrong. But assuming Chipper’s version of events is more or less true, I’m completely lost as to what he, or Chipper, was doing here. If Chipper Jones is stealing your signs (and at age 40, are we sure he can even see that far?), fix your signs. If Jamie Moyer accuses you of stealing signs, don’t get offended and complain about impugning your integrity and such — tell him to fix his signs.
But they didn’t do that, of course, and two of the very grownedest grown men in baseball end up looking a bit like bratty little kids. Isn’t it just about the silliest thing you’ve ever heard? What am I missing here?