By Jason Keidel
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As the baseball calendar narrows to a granular sum of games, the Yankees’ turbulent season looks like it will land in a familiar place.
And what seemed like a lost shot at the division crown just a week ago has reappeared before the Yankees (74-64), who are 3 1/2 games behind Boston in the AL East.
While any portal into the playoffs is significant, every team wants to win their division and avoid the historical crapshoot of the wild card game. And if the Yankees and their fans are honest, there’s no team they’d rather play for it all than the Red Sox.
Which makes a recent piece in the New York Times all the more sizzling as the sun sets on this summer. It seems the Red Sox were stealing signals from the Yankees, which, on its face, is neither unusual nor illegal. That is, until we discovered that the Red Sox were using Apple Watches to appropriate said signs.
According to the report, a video taken of the Red Sox bench supported claims by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who filed a complaint with Major League Baseball about two weeks ago, following a series at Fenway Park. And, odd as it may sound, this is good news for baseball fans in both cities.
Frankly, it almost doesn’t matter if the charges are true or if the Red Sox yielded any tangible edge from it. What matters is that life is being pumped back into the best rivalry in sports. No teams or towns have an ancestral beef quite like Boston and New York, or the Red Sox and Yanks. Of course, you don’t want teams or players cheating, but if one sport can’t claim any ethical high ground in that regard, it’s Major League Baseball. Between PEDs and greenies and pine tar and whatever gook a pitcher smears on a baseball, it feels like our pastime feeds on stretching, if not snapping, the rules.
What does matter is that Red Sox are so frothing to beat the Yankees, and are so fearful of them, that they will use tools from Silicon Valley to beat them. It’s the spirit, not the technique, that makes this drama so fun.
Because, honestly, there’s little to suggest stealing signs wins or loses games, or even titles. We can go as far back as 66 years, to perhaps the most celebrated pennant race of all, and find teams trying to gain the same edge Boston sought last month.
The New York Giants were stealing signs during their 1951 battle with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Yet over the second half of that season — when the thievery allegedly began — only three Giants saw their batting averages go up. And during their legendary three-game playoff, the Giants won the first game at Ebbets Field, where they couldn’t steal signs; lost the next game, at home 10-0, where they supposedly were stealing signs; and they were losing 4-2 in the ninth inning of the final game, when they had this epic edge, before Bobby Thomson stepped to the plate.
What made that season, series, and rivalry so gripping was the inherent hatred and competition between teams and fans. The device used to steal signs — in 1951 or 2017 — is peripheral. It’s what drives the teams do it, to get some microscopic edge, and to risk discipline from the upper rungs of MLB by doing so.
If the Yankees win the AL East, it will be because they played beyond their baseball cards and our expectations. They were supposed to contend next year, making this coming autumn a bit of a bonus. If they lose to the Red Sox it will be because Boston was better. That’s what puts a pennant race in the archives, way more than the lens or lights inside binoculars, periscopes, or Apple Watches.
But just the fact that the Red Sox felt the need to do this says what they feel about the Yankees, about New York, about us, about the rivalry. And that’s something we can all cheer, even with a little cheating.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel